This latest post is coming out a little late because I have been in Washington D.C. for a Youth Mental Health Conference. At the conference, I learned about different programs other cities have implemented regarding youth mental health, talked about removing the stigma for the issue, and became certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid. The health of a population is critical to their success. Both mental and physical health are pertinent to maintaining a stable and functioning society. When you are physically ill, you are less likely to perform your best. When you are mentally unhappy, you are also less likely to perform your best.
Now before I begin with refugees: not all refugee camps are the same. Lesbos consists of two main camps & one run by volunteers. The two main camps are Kara Tepe Refugee Center and Moria Detention Center. The third camp, run strictly by volunteers, is called Lesbos Solidarity-Pikpa. Due to my age and an enormous amount of restrictions/requirements, I was only able to personally visit Lesbos Solidarity-Pikpa. I did, however, have the opportunity to speak to those who volunteer with both camps.
As refugees come ashore in Lesbos, if they arrive at Skala Sikaminias, they are taken to the first check point of the Moria camp. This camp is run by the military and is assisted by only a select group of organizations. While driving around the island, my father and I stumbled upon this small camp in the winding roads of Lesbos. The volunteers were extremely welcoming, and I would like to extend a thank you for their hospitality. While there, I was shown around the small check point and introduced to the current shift of volunteers. Here is an example of what would happen if a group of refugees came ashore:
First: When their boat is spotted, the military is notified. The check point is called to be prepared. The military then takes the refugees by bus to this camp.
Second: The refugees are given water and small foods, like a banana, and shown an area where they can change clothes if they are wet.
Third: They are then placed in a large tent-like room where food is distributed and they are given blankets and some basic necessities. Outside of the tent are bathrooms with showers and sinks.
Fourth: Depending on when they arrive, they might spend the night and be ushered by bus to Moria Detention Center the next day, or taken later the same day.
You might be asking, why am I calling this camp the detention center…I am calling it a detention center because these refugees are treated like prisoners. They are detained for 25 days while paperwork is filed. After their paperwork goes through, they have the option to leave the camp…but with no where to go. With no money, where can one go? No where. Moria was formerly army barracks, ergo the feeling of being in a prison. Not only do these refugees want to leave Greece to go elsewhere in Europe, but they are trapped. The borders are closed. They are stuck in Greece until the borders reopen.
The volunteers I met work for 3 weeks in Lesbos. They alternate between working at the Moria Detention Center and Skala Sikaminias. While at Skala Sikaminias, I had the opportunity to speak to volunteers openly and honestly about their experiences at the camp. All of the volunteers wanted nothing more than to help and better the lives of the refugees. One volunteer told me a story about four Afghani women she met at the camp. These women wanted to learn the Latin Alphabet. Their village was controlled by the Taliban, and the women were not allowed to learn anything except for the Quran. This volunteer was able to teach these four women the alphabet. Not only did she make friends, but she was able to empower the women by increasing their education.These women were so thankful for their new friendship and the ability to learn that they offered the volunteer their dinner. The women had nothing, but they were so thankful for the ability to learn that they wanted to offer all that they could. Some of the little children tug on the volunteers sleeves, desiring a playmate. Education and games are a great way to increase someone’s mental happiness. They offer a positive outlet in the midst of a difficult journey.
While there are some positive aspects of this camp, it faces its own struggles. These people have undergone an intense, long journey. They have fled their own homes in order to find something that they hope is better. But when they arrive, prison is not what they expected. Some of the refugees told the volunteers that
“if they had known that they were going to be in prison for months, they would rather have died at home.”
The camps put an enormous amount of stress on the already belabored refugees. Moria is mostly filled with men, young men. These men have no outlets of recreation or activity. They have no way of making money. This causes many fights and thefts. Within Moria, people come from different countries (Afghanistan, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan), represent different ethnic groups, speak different languages, and observe different religious practices. This leads to an abundance of tension because formerly feuding or separate groups are now forced together under intense conditions. Many also steal from the surrounding city because the camp cannot provide enough resources for everyone.
I would like to ask that before anyone makes an assumption about refugees or reads an article about fights or thefts, think about the stress that they are under. I cannot emphasize enough about how difficult this journey is. They left everything behind without a clear vision of the future. If they survived the journey to Greece, they must learn to survive now in Greece.