I’ve been on this island for close to 3 months. It feels like I’ve only just arrived but at the same time have been here for an eternity. Nothing is ever what you expect it to be, and this was no exception. Things I thought would be easy are rough and other things I thought would bring me to my breaking point didn’t phase me. I wish I would have done a better job at updates, but to be honest I’ve been fighting with myself on this one in trying to figure out how to be completely ethical while also advocating. I’m working on it, but for now, this is what I’ve seen.
Moria is where I spend most of my time these days. It’s a bleak place. A former prison compound turned refugee camp of now over 3,000 with more new arrivals every day. It’s run by the army, and looks like it. Barbed wire and concrete everywhere you turn with drinking water being rationed at a liter per day. Cardboard litters the ground as there is nothing else to sit on and garbage is everywhere. The camp is split up by zones. Families, unaccompanied minors, the prison zone, single men, etc.
Many have been in Moria for more than a year, waiting on the status of their asylum with nothing to do in the meantime. My team and I start a garden and since we don’t have the greenest of thumbs, we’re thankful when some men watching our attempts step in. One of them is from Bangladesh and has been in Moria for almost 2 years. He explained that he used to do interpreting for one of the clinics when more people from his country were here. But then most were deported and his help for interpreting isn’t needed anymore. He thanks us for giving him something to do while he tells us he is worried about becoming lazy with nothing to do while he’s waiting. He used to own a rice farm and the garden is in good hands.
People in Moria are frustrated and rightfully so. They’ve been waiting sometimes years in poor living conditions with poor treatment while hearing nothing about their asylum status. The irritation of many sometimes turns into rioting as people protest their rights and express their discontentment. The police don’t do much in the way of deescalating the situations and tear gas and violence is almost always used. In the video I linked you see an officer beating a resident during a protest. A few weeks ago there was a riot that caused the shelter new arrivals stay in to be burnt down. Those who had just arrived lost what few belongings they had. We set up triage a ways down the road and driving towards the camp was surreal. In the distance smoke billowed from the camp while a sea of people carrying bags, children, and pets poured down the dirt road away from the chaos. Many people landed in the shade of a warehouse waiting for the all clear to go back. A doctor and I walked up and down the lines of people scouting out anyone who needed medical assistance. A woman 9 months pregnant was having back pain and an ambulance was called. The planes that drop water on the forest fires zoomed by overhead and the Doctor looked up and muttered “Now comes the PTSD.” The kids teach me games and I tell people to put out their cigarettes in case of another fire. I used the little Arabic and Farsi I know to yell at the kids stealing fruit from the farmer, which seemed unfair considering they’re just hungry kids. Many people came up to me and asked when they could go back and if there was going to be anything left. I don’t know, I told them, I know just as much as you. We hand out water and wait. Hours go by and eventually the fires are out and the rioting has calmed. We load our jeep and head back home as the camp residents wearily wake their children, pick up their belongings, and trek back to what’s left of the only home they have.
“How will we heal if they keep doing this to us?”
You don’t see much of this on the news anymore, but don’t be fooled. It’s still happening. People are still without help, without homes, without hope. Please don’t look away. Please pay attention.
I promise you that amidst all of this injustice there are stories of hope for the future. I will tell them soon. But for now, I am sad. Sad for all of the amazing people I have met who don’t deserve these continual hardships.
“I see all people as good. Some governments are no good, but people are good. Syria, Congo, America, doesn’t matter. We’re all good people.” – A young man in Moria