I spent today with our partner Omar Alkashal of Refugee 4 Refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos. Omar took me to see the tented overflow fields of the Moria Refugee Camp, known as the Olive Grove.
It was worse than I’d imagined.
I hadn’t known that the people in tents are the people who’ve been on Lesvos for the longest, generally over a year. Just when you thought life couldn’t be any worse... Men, women, children, indiscriminately abandoned and forgotten there.
When some of the people realised there were ‘visitors’ they appeared to come out their tents to greet us. I loved seeing a little tented dog kennel with two young teenage boys looking after it. Such humanity... A dog house built the same as people are living in. it’s own shelter, a blanket, a couple of battered toys... awesome!
A young Sudanese man stopped for a chat. Mohammed was dressed only in t-shirt and shorts and, when we shook hands, his were way warmer than mine. He said ‘I’m from Africa’ like that explained why my Scottish blood, with 4-layers on, was frozen and he was so warm! Mohammed’s been in Moria for 8 months, he’s skilled in languages and dreams of going to Canada, but anywhere is fine. Of his current fate, his resigned face said only Inshallah; as God wills.
There must be 500+ people in this overflow area but I could only see four portaloos FFS. Omar assured me they stank and we wouldn’t go there. But what choice is there for the families living there?
On the right, African men were praying in their makeshift church, when they suddenly sang together... their beautiful tones echoing through the camp...
We stopped to chat to a group of men cooking chicken on a fire. They were seven Iraqis and a Syrian. And their chicken was black on the fire. They told Omar it was for the Syrian man’s wife and 3 kids. We were offered some, of course, and they laughed saying ‘plants plants’ when I said I was vegetarian. They never stopped smiling and joking even as they showed us the food ration for camp that day - chicken with rice. I swear to you that the chicken was raw. They cook the chicken again, but the rice trays were neatly piled in a plastic bag, uneaten. Barely cooked, they said it was inedible. Binning the rice and re-cooking the chicken was clearly a daily chore now accepted. ‘The food no good, no good’. I can see what they mean.
Our final stop before leaving was with an Iraqi man on crutches with bright pink ski boots. He pulled his trouser leg up a little to show us open wounds on his leg. An injury from more than a year ago, the shrapnel is still in there and the wounds weep and throb constantly. The doctors don’t help. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Every millimeter of the man’s face turned to warmth and appreciation when Omar told him to come to the warehouse where the wound could be treated (even if the shrapnel can’t be removed). That tiny glimmer of hope, of someone giving a damn, and I’m sure Omar had just made a new friend for life.
It’s now 1.30am and I’m at one of the volunteer houses to sleep for the night and I’m listening to the rain hammering down, and to thunder... Crying inside as I think of the little dog in his shelter, his family shivering in the summer tent next door, of Mohammed still surprisingly warm in his t-shirt and shorts, of the man on crutches with the shrapnel, of the men praying and the souls they were praying for. And I’m thinking of Europe’s monumental failure of these people and the toll that it’s taking on each precious life.