Hide and seek - Lesvos, Greece

Yesterday, Omar Alkashal of our partners Refugee 4 Refugees, took Ruhi Akhtar (of our partners Refugees Biriyani & Bananas) and I to Moria Refugee Camp, on the Greek Island of Lesvos. This is what we found there.

5,000+ people inside the main Moria Camp 
1,700+ families in the area beside the camp known as The Olive Grove 
600 single men in the newly terraced area of The Olive Grove next to the road (newly terraced thanks to Dutch NGO - non-Government Organisation- Movement on the Ground)

About 2,000 more refugees are on the island in Pikpa and Kara Tepe Camps and in apartments.

We’re not sure who or how many people have been moved to the mainland. We heard there was one new boat landing yesterday morning.

For the people living in The Olive Grove we found hardly any toilets (port-a-loos), no showers, just three concrete sinks for all washing - selves, dishes and clothes. And, despite the great work of groups including refugees from Moria naming themselves The White Hearts, and volunteers from Refugee 4 Refugees regularly clearing rubbish, it was still inevitably piling up.

Electricity cables are strung tangled in trees at eye level. Waiting to stop working in the rain, at best, and spark and start a fire, at worst.

Inside the main Moria Camp (my first time inside the actual camp in 18 months and four visits to Lesvos) we found a queue already forming for lunch... a couple of hours before it would arrive and be served. Most likely badly cooked rice with an indistinguishable sauce.

It’s really cold and it was raining on and off. I had thermals, a ski jacket, a hood. Yet we saw people just in shorts, or flip-flops. I’ll leave you to decide if you think that’s by choice, or because they simply don’t have anything else….

The children were devastatingly bored. They played with anything they could find. Broken cardboard boxes, flattened plastic bottles. Then we saw one group of kids playing blind man’s buff and giggling so much! We teased the girl with the blindfold on by letting her find Ruhi! That met with so much giggling!!!!

Hospitality ruled, as it always does. As we wandered through the Olive Grove chatting and smiling as best we could with kids and adults who spoke mostly Arabic or Urdu or French… a lovely Afghan lady went to get her brother who spoke some English. And that quickly turned into an invite for chai which we happily accepted because it’s so lovely getting to know people, and because we know how important this simple act of hospitality is.

As we sat down and looked around a spotlessly clean, small and very empty space, we realised this family had just half a tent. There was a blanket on the floor as a rug and a small pile of blankets at the side. That’s all. They were so so cold at night that sometimes they slept in the day instead. They had a kettle and a one-ring portable stove. Like everyone here, their electricity came from the fire hazards strung in the trees outside.

We asked if they were joining us for tea and they declined, a little embarrassed. They only had three cups. So they talked, smiled and watched us drink tea.

Thankfully they asked us for photos and so we took some too. I want to remember them and their kindness. The world needs more people with this dignity, pride and humanity. Europe could learn a lot from them.

You wouldn’t believe Moria Refugee Camp could happen in Europe. We have no excuses, it’s shameful and unforgivable that we’ve chosen to treat people this way. I can say with certainty that if it was the other way around, they’d help us.