It finally stopped raining last night, just in time for our first trip to Moria, the notorious refugee registration centre high up in the mountains and a 15 minute drive from Mytilini. With a huge old Royal Mail van packed out with warm, dry clothing and shoes and some hot meals, we wound our way up the hills until we reached the purpose built centre. These are the scenes that greeted us, and this, was a good day: the rain had stopped and there were relatively few people. Hardly anyone, in fact, compared to recent days.
*This was supposed to be posted yesterday but we were asked go to the town of Molyvos, 1 hour’s drive from here and I couldn’t finish… *
In every new situation that we walk into concerning the refugees, we have absolutely no idea what to expect, and I find myself often on drives or in cars, with no idea where we are going, what we will need, what we will do. It is one thing I have in common with the refugees. They also have no idea what each next step of the journey will be like, or where it will take them, as they are bundled in and out of first a boat, then buses, then herded into lines to be processed, then allowed to go free again, clutching their papers, left trying to figure out how they will get from Moria down to Mytilini, where they will wait for the ferry to Athens, and move onto the next stage of the complete unknown. These were the stages I witnessed at Moria.
When the boats land on the island, the refugees are “sorted” into nationalities. Syrian refugees have priority and are taken to a different camp. Afghanis, Iraqis and Iranians and probably any other nationality (but I haven’t met any others) are taken to Moria. What we found at Moria was shocking. Wet discarded clothes, UNHCR blankets, foil blankets, shoes, rubbish, are piled high everywhere. The refugees must wait in line to register and obtain their papers, which will allow them two weeks entry to Greece. Single men line up on one side, and women and children and men with families on the other. Enormous, heavily bolted and padlocked wire gates are controlled by a giant of a man who shouts instructions unnecessarily and aggressively at the people waiting patiently in line, who are shivering uncontrollably from the cold and the wet clothes they are wearing. Every so often an announcement is made over a tannoy system, a polite and entirely out of place and inappropriate “bing bing bing” precedes the barked announcement. If the refugees are lucky, it will be in Farsi or Pashto as well as English, and they will actually be able to know what is going on. When the gates are opened, there is a rush and confusion as to who can go in, and families often get separated. For this situation, the giant has back up in the form of a small group of riot police, who stand ready with shields. I try not to get angry at this sight. I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet: teargas was used on the refugees only the day before.
So that is the situation there. It was very windy and very cold. The vast majority of the refugees, having only just arrived on the island, were still wet from their boat journey. I spent the next several hours identifying the wettest people, mainly children, and finding them clean dry clothes and blankets, trying in vain in some cases to get them warm again. This work is so important. If we had not been there that night, there would have been no clean dry clothes. More people than just the few we took to the doctor would have had suspected hypothermia. This is what feet look like when they have been in wet shoes for a long time, and this man’s case was particularly bad, but I took wet shoes off children with feet like this too:
There are voluntary doctors at Moria, but none provided by the Greek state. Not much seems to be state provided except the centre and the officials who control it. No food is distributed, no rubbish clean up carried out, no doctors provided, no dry clothes, shoes and warm blankets. No shelter in spite of the fact that the centre can house up to 600 people in purpose-built accommodation. People are sleeping outside under olive trees in tents handed out by NGOs. Everything given out at Moria is provided by small, independent groups and individuals like us. Conditions are nothing short of inhumane. And I know that this is only the tip of the iceberg for these people in their journey, it’s only going to get colder and more miserable.
However, amidst all this misery, there are beautiful smiles and moments of laughter and great humour. I had carried a wee Afghan boy up the hill, as he couldn’t carry himself anymore. The second I picked him up, he gave he sweetest smile with his eyes all lit up. Later he found me again, now sporting a warm hat and gloves and Celtic Football Club scarf, and spent some time playing with my head torch. Apparently the red light was hilarious and he broke out into peals of infectious laughter, and started dancing and singing songs from home. Mum and dad got a break, and so did I.
We hitched a lift back to Mytilini with a volunteer, stopping to pick up two Iraqi men and take them to the port. With all of us squeezed in, our new volunteer friend set off pelting down the hill… but unsure of how to get back to Mytilini…”Mytilini, where are you, wayn anta?” she said, and the Iraqis, in a moment of hilarity, passed her the heavy binoculars used for looking out for the boats arriving. “Here, use these!” they laughed. Much tension from an intense and heavy day was released in the ensuing laughter.