Two worlds confronted in Moria. Jungle VS – local community
Rashid is sitting with his friends at the edge of the slope, on some pallets and wood. He is over 60 years old and as he says, that he was an officer in the Afghan army. He has lost his left eye in one of the battles against Taliban. He was already one week in Lesvos, in the Moria camp before we met him. He crossed the sea from Turkey to Greece, along with all of his family. His groom, along with his friends, have bought the pallets and woods, with which they were trying to build the huts, which will host them for the next few months, until they manage to get the open ‘ausweis’ as they call the threefold, given to refugees by the Greek state. At first they get a red stamped on it, indicating that their case is in geographical restriction. They renew it every month, expecting that the stamp will turn from red, to blue or black, which means they will be able to travel in the mainland.
The young men are working together to finish the huts as quickly as possible. They have chosen to build their huts, on the slope to the left of the official camp. Into the “jungle” as they call it. It is further away from the toilets and showers, but it has more room to comfortably build their huts. Many on that side of the mountain, besides the huts they built, have also fences, creating small courtyards. Last summer, when the population of Moria was smaller, there were several refugees who had set up small gardens and planted tomatoes and vegetables. The population of Moria right now, exceeds twenty thousand. An entire city was born out of nothing and people continue to come from Turkey. The camp is getting bigger and bigger.
“Women and children are in Kara Tepe. We have friends there and host them until we finish the huts” Rashid told me, and continued: “I have never imagined in my life that I will be in such condition. But I can’t do anything. For the good of my family, I have to try to make our lives here despite the difficulties”. Next to him are the family’s backpacks and luggage stacked. Blankets and sleeping bags, some kettles.
One hundred meters further, there were two makeshift fields. They play football in one of them, and in the other are playing volleyball. Children run right and left, playing their own games. Most of them have volus in their pockets. They have come many times to proudly show me their volus. Life goes on. On the two main streets to the right and left of the official campsite, small shops have been set up selling fruits, vegetables, supermarket items, and even wood and pallets. There are quite a few hairdressers, with Moria’s bakeries at the end of the official campsite between the two slopes. Every day they make thousands of Arabian pies bought by the refugees. They sell it for 50 cents each and are still warm when you buy them. Probably the best bread I have eaten since the Yazidi camp in Petra Olympus at 2016.
“Small countries are expelling. The big ones are integrating”
Between the two slopes, you can see the remnants of the logs from the olive trees, cut by the refugees in order to provide fuel and heat. 100 and 200 year old olive trees, have been sacrificed in order to give temporarily warmth. The ecological and economic damage for the local community is very big. Hundreds of olive trees have been cut down. They are wedged in a blanket of oil in the hood and set on fire to make the tree fall. Every now and then, someone passes by loaded with wood and twigs in the back to carry them to his tent. The inhabitants of the village are furious. Most are oil producers and know very well that these trees will not be re-grown. A few days ago a cameraman, friend of mine, driving a rented car went up the mountain over Moria to make some shots of the camp. A few minutes later he got to the point he wanted, a motorcyclist approached him. They had seen him from the village and went to check what he wanted on the mountain. “Are you from an NGO?” he asked him sternly. When the mutual explanations were given the intensity of the moment subsided. The local population accuses the NGOs of being behind the movements of refugees, resulting in great mistrust in their actions. That feeling was also supported by statements by government officials regarding the actions of NGOs following the incidents during the refugee protest to Mytilene.
The Law of the Jungle
One evening leaving from the camp, I decided to drive my car through the village. “By that way, if you walk at night alone, they will surely steal you. There are groups of people, living in the camp that are hiding in the streets around the area in the evenings and if someone makes the mistake of returning at night on his own, they are stealing from him his cellphone and money. You can’t do anything. If you react, they will stab you. Everyone here got a knife. Me personally, I don’t get out of my container during the night. Everyone knows that if you get into the jungle they will steal you. Every night there are fights and over three to four stabbings” an Afghan friend told me. Amir.
Driving down the narrow road between the olive trees, I didn’t saw anybody. At the entrance of the village, I was stopped by the police in front of a bus of riot police. It was about a week after the incidents outside Kara Tepe when chemicals became widespread in order to stop the refugees on their way to Mytilene. “Why are you driving through here?” they asked me. When I showed them my journalistic id and explained to them that I was researching, I was advised to be careful. “They are very angry inside the village,” the officer told me. It was evening and there was no one in the streets of the village. On the other side of Moria, there were two police cars with their lights on. They didn’t stop me.
The next morning I went for a coffee in the village to chat with the locals. It was two days after the arrest of seven teens patrolling around the village. Two of them were not Greeks. One was Bulgarian and the other Albanian. Immigrants, too, who had been assimilated by the village society and felt more Greek than Greek. They felt they had to protect their way of life from the invaders. Irony. About twenty years ago, their parents were also considered invaders and dangerous. But Greek society, with the mechanisms it developed on its own, ignoring the media reports that targeted these people and the inadequacy of all governments since then, eventually integrated these families and made their young children feel – wrongly- that they had to defend by violence, the Greek way of life against young refugees. “Small countries are expelling. The big integrating” a friend told me several years ago, commenting on the assimilation into Greek society of Albanians and Pontian’s from Russia.
The shadow of fear over Moria
“We’re scared. At night you cannot walk outside the village. There have been too many thefts and the police is coming after hours whenever you call them. But even if they come, they are arresting the thieves and the next day are free again. They have destroyed our gardens, the olive trees, they steel cables from installations, woods and whatever they are finding. It’s not like 2015 and 2016. I have a small ironworks factory next to Kara Tepe. At 2016 I had ten tents with Syrian families in my backyard. I was giving them electricity and Wi-Fi. We had no problems. Now I have ten dogs in my yard. These are not refugees. They are immigrants” a young resident of the village tells me, who does not want to be named, and continues: “We were asking the police to protect us and they did nothing. They came to my house and stole clothes and shoes. The dog barked and so we caught them. The police came and arrested them. The other day they were out. Forget me. But my mother, how can she feel safe after that?” The locals of Moria gather at the two entrances of the village every afternoon to guard it. “It is only when we get together that the police is coming. Unless we go out for protection, neither will the police come to guard the village” he tells me.
Refugees call the area with olive trees to the right and left of the Moria camp, “jungle”. This is how the refugee camp in Calais, France, was called. «The jungle». There are many things in common with that camp. The Jungle of Moria is a dangerous place mainly for women and children. According to official UNHCR data, 24% of the Lesvos refugee population is made up of women, 25% of girls, 17% of boys and only 34% of men. 76% of the population of Moria is Afghans, 8% Syrians, 4% Somalis, 3% Congolese, 2% Iraqis and 6% of the population are of other nationalities.
The kids are still playing
The children are constantly playing in the camp. Side by side with trash and mud. None of these children go to school. You can hear them coughing, as their tents are frozen. Even the fires that light out of their tents, often burn plastics, garbage and rubber bits in order to produce more heat and light more easily. Inhaling the smoke from these fires makes the problem even greater. One night, outside a tent, an Afghan couple was trying to warm water in a makeshift dock. “With this water we will fill the water heaters so that when we lie down we will have heat under the blankets” the woman told us. “My son is already sleeping. We have put him in a water heater. He is sick. When it is not raining we are trying to sit by the fire for as long as possible to warm up because the tents are frosty. «Many refugees complain of scabies. Medicines are few and hygiene is very poor. Even if you take medications for scabies and creams, taking a shower or having clean clothes is very difficult for Jungle residents. Before you can see a doctor, you have to wait in line for hours. Spending hours in lines, is something very common in Moria. Lines for the doctor, for the food, for the toilet, for the shower.
Somewhere in the middle of the jungle to the right of the official camp, my friend Amir takes me to the school that the refugees have set up on their own. “We do Greek, English, German, guitar and painting lessons,” he tells me. There is a library with books that have been brought by volunteers while a recent exhibition was held at Mosaik in Mytilene with works by school students. WHF is the school name and is the initials of “Wave of Hope for the Future”.
Chess play with people
In Moria, as well as in all refugee camps in the Greek islands and inland, a peculiar chessboard has been erected, with politicians and countries playing chess with human souls. The Greek governments since 2015 have proved to be the worst player on these chessboard. They have managed to create inhumane living conditions for refugees and for local communities. The previous government because of ideologies and ideological glitches and that government because of ignorance and inability to understand the problem. Both governments have been and continue to be far from the problem. They fail to understand it and this results in them being unable to find solutions. They draw on paper from a distance, without approaching local communities, resulting in reactions and distrust on all sides. And chess continues with Greece being the worst player on the chessboard of the refugee issue, while the pawns have been and will continue to be the people.