A Day in the Life of a Refugee in Moria Camp, Lesbos
March 9, 2016
by Kirsten Senturia
Thousands of refugees from as far away as South Sudan and as near to Greece as Syria continue to arrive on the island of Lesbos daily. Their boat landing is just the beginning of their odyssey which is both physical travel and negotiating a complex system of rules, laws and bureaucracy. Once their feet have touched dry ground on Lesbos, they transfer to Moria Camp for food, shelter and documentation. Here?s what it is like for refugees to navigate a day at Moria:
- You arrive at the camp by bus, taxi or foot. When Moria first opened in the fall of 2015, refugees were walking there from the beaches. This could be as far as 60 kilometers. Those who were fortunate enough to retain their belongings when making the sea passage had to carry those belongings and any small children all the way to Moria. Non-governmental agencies (NGO?s) are not permitted to transport refugees in their vehicles at all. Fortunately, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is now coordinating bus transportation for refugees who arrive by boat. When you enter at the base of the camp, you are probably wet, exhausted and emotionally drained. You could arrive at any time of the day or night.
- When you disembark the bus, you are separated into two groups (Arabic speakers and others), line up and receive a numbered wristband. Throughout the day you listen for your number to line up and be registered. Everyone wants to register because without registration papers, you cannot move through Greece or the rest of Europe legally. The registration is in no way a residency permit, but you MUST have the registration to move on. We have heard stories about Tunisian and Algerian men unable to get registered; they risked arrest and deportation if they left Moria at any time, so they were trapped.
- Either before or after registering, you wander around the camp. If you have energy, you can line up outside any number of temporary ?huts? for free tea, dry clothing, etc. Food is only served three times per day. Everywhere you turn, you see families or large groups of people sitting or laying on blankets awaiting something.
- All those in Moria must exit their sleeping barracks at 8:00 am everyday. Those who are registered are free to move both in and outside the camp if they choose. International volunteers and paid Greek cleaning staff thoroughly clean and reorganize the barracks in anticipation of the 3:00 pm re-housing.
- At 2:30, you and your family join a line that snakes down the hill and waxes and wanes over the next two hours as re-housing takes place. If you are a single man traveling without a wife and/or children, you cannot be housed in the family barracks, even if you are traveling with an extended family. You will be housed in separate barracks or tents.
- At 3 pm you are welcomed into the camp, one family at a time, by the volunteer crew, who must figure out the complicated system of trying to house language and ethnicity groups together, while separating registered from non-registered refugees. You will end up in a room of bunks and floor mats where 25 to 50 refugees will sleep under UNHCR-issued thick gray blankets.
- Dinner is served at 7:30 pm in the barracks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are free and are generally something resembling rice and vegetables or curry.
- You can then fall asleep exhausted if you haven?t slept through the afternoon and evening.
- At any point, registered Syrians may be removed and sent to a satellite camp, Kara Tepe, where they remain until they can come up with Athens ferry fare ($50/adult, under 5 years free). For these refugees, the move to Kara Tepe is generally a positive step.
- Repeat steps three through nine every day until you depart Moria Camp. This can take one day to over a week. Limiting factors include registration status, money for tickets to the Greek Mainland and ferry passenger capacity.
If registered refugees are not satisfied with the conditions inside Moria camp, there is an option of staying in a Mytilini hotel or the outer camp located immediately adjacent to Moria and completely run by volunteers—not Greek government. It is known as “Better Days for Moria”. There, families are offered tents that become their personal space but with less infrastructure. A long journey is made longer with endless lines, waiting and exhaustion.
Kirsten Senturia is a medical anthropologist who does community assessment and program planning with immigrant and refugee communities in Washington State. She is currently volunteering in Lesbos, Greece with Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle Based NGO.