28 hours on Lesvos

For the past few weeks, several famous people have spoken up about the situation for displaced people in Moria refugee camp on Lesvos. The petition “Evakuer barna fra Moria” (Evacuate the Children from Moria) has been widely spread on social media. Last week, Karin Andersen of the Norwegian Social Party visited Moria refugee camp with A Drop in the Ocean’s Secretary General, Trude Jacobsen. The visit in Moria was nowhere near being a “formal visit”. You can read more about their experiences below, including unpredicted situations that occurred and the people they met during their eventful 28 hours on Lesvos.

gutt i gul regnjsakke som samler ved utenfor en teltleir

Day 1

Activities with unaccompanied minors

After having a nice and relaxing holiday celebrating Christmas, the new year started with an abrupt reminder of the reality of living in Moria. I arrived on Lesvos with Karin Andersen from the Norwegian Socialist Party just before 6 pm Sunday evening. The 40 sleeping bags we had brought with us got lost in transit somewhere along the way between Oslo and Lesvos, so after reporting that we were missing part of our luggage, we headed off with Ida, our brand-new Site Coordinator on Lesvos. Our first stop was at the house of an elderly Greek married couple who rents out two apartments to our coordinators. A new agreement needed to be signed, so we were invited into their living room and got to experience the warm Greek hospitality.

We could not stay there for long, as we were participating in the evening activities in Moria camp. We made a quick stop by the hotel at the port, to check in and leave our luggage, and stepped out after only 15 minutes. Our little red rental car, which has served us for a year and a half would not start. The battery was dead, and we started to look for alternative ways to get to the camp. As the wind was howling at full strength, almost overpowering the sound of the Christmas music that was blasting through the speakers along the port, we got in contact with one of the other coordinators and car rental provider. However, we decided to make a last attempt to get the car going, which apparently had regained its power, and it started without any problems.

Karin Andersen from the Norwegian Socialist Party outside of Moria Camp. Photo: A Drop in the Ocean

Section B – a residence for 138 unaccompanied minors

The next stop on our journey was through the Drop Centre in Moria village, to pick up boxes with games and crayons to bring with us into the camp, and also to enter the camp as a team.

We arrive at Section B at precisely 8pm, which is the area where 138 unaccompanied minors reside. We were immediately informed that the evening had been tense. The level of tension in Section A, which is right next door, was high that evening and they had already had 6 fights in the camp. We did not feel threatened by the situation, but we do however take measures to ensure our safety as well as the safety of our people prior to commencing activities. We always make sure that the backdoor which leads out is open, and that there is police and security in close proximity to us.

We spent two hours inside Section B that evening, as we do six times per week. Karin Andersen arranged a game of UNO alongside eager players. The youngest of them was 12 years old. Arianna and several boys were trying out the big puzzles. Magnus was teaching people how to juggle, Ida was playing basketball, and Kian was supervising the situation in the section next door. I ended up playing a game of chess, where we were constantly neck-in-neck, steadily chasing for the lead.

A 12-year-old approached Karin Andersen with an English children’s book. He wanted her to read it to him, and also read some of it himself. Thereafter, he walked over to grab a pen, and wrote the two first sentences from the book. His handwriting was beautiful. “Look, look”, he said, with a big smile on his face, proudly showing off his writing.

The minors who live in Section B, behind the tall barbed-wired fences, are 138 boys between the ages of 12 and 17. They love these hours during the evenings where they can play games, draw, speak English, and be noticed. During these hours they are not the children Europe neglects. During these hours they are acknowledged for who they are, children and teens. Obviously, they should be seen and heard on a much larger scale, and under completely different circumstances.

The work we do in Section B seems trivial and small, but we have received information from the camp management that the disturbances in the section had been reduced by 80 percent since A Drop in the Ocean started working inside the camp in April 2019.

Meeting a woman in a lot of pain in Moria

At 10pm it was time for us to leave the camp and the minors. It is pitch black outside, and the freezing cold northern wind is still strong. As we reach the car, which is parked just outside the fence, we discover a woman who is clearly in a lot of pain. She points at her stomach, says «baby» and «hospital», and our primary conclusion is that she is pregnant, and the baby is coming.

Our coordinator calls for a taxi to take her to hospital, and we place her in the passenger seat of the vehicle. We start to question whether she is pregnant, as her stomach looks very soft. The woman pulls out her cell phone and shows us a film of two babies, who appears to be healthy. She then says, “two babies” and points toward the sky. A man from the camp speaks English, and translates for us. He tells us that the woman gave birth to twins a week ago, and that both babies are dead. The taxi arrives and the woman is sent to hospital.

We are back in Mytilini at around 10:45pm. The 40 sleeping bags had been located and delivered to the hotel. We have a quick bite of souvlaki at a street food restaurant before we go to sleep. It is not easy to fall asleep, given all the experiences we had had our first few hours on Lesvos.

“It was shocking to witness how much the conditions had deteriorated in merely a month since my last visit,” writes Trude Jacobsen, Secretary General. Photo: Knut Bry

Day 2

The Kitrinos clinic

Karin started the day early with an interview with NRK (Norwegian government-owned broadcasting company) radio, before we headed off to meet Ida and our new Operations Coordinator, Christos, to have breakfast whilst getting briefed. Thereafter, we returned to Moria, to see what the camp looks like in daylight. The sewage smell hit us long before we exit the car.

Our first stop was the Kitrinos clinic, where A Drop in the Ocean have doctors and nurses in place. It is a Greek public holiday this Monday, and the MSF clinic outside the camp is closed. This entailed that all patients were coming to Kitrinos, who were fully prepared with loads of staff. The clinic is really a mere constellation of tarpaulin, which are mounted as “walls” and the floor is gravel. There are five examination rooms, which are secluded with blankets. Some patients have come inside and can wait whilst sitting on wooden pallets, but most of them are queuing up outside, whilst the cold wind is howling.

It was snowing on the tops this Monday in January. Abdulhadi, a coordinator with the Kitrinos clinic, showed us the clinic. One of the nurses just received questions from a patient that was struggling with diarrhoea. She was alone with a baby and a 2-year-old, as a result of abuse, and was uncertain what she should do with her children when she had to run to the toilet. There are no safe places to leave your children, and there is no room for all of them in the festival toilet, nor is it sanitary to place a baby in those toilets.

Meeting «Ahmed»

After witnessing the incredible efforts made by the personnel in the clinic, we step outside. There we ran into “Ahmed”, an orphan Afgan boy, who was standing with Morteza, one of the volunteers with A Drop in the Ocean. “Ahmed” told us that his older brother is living in Kristiansand (located in the south of Norway), whilst he was on his own in Moria. He told us that he is 14 years old, but have been estimated to be 17. Therefore, he has not been situated with the other unaccompanied minors. He told us he felt sick and unsafe. He also told us that they have a younger brother, who is 11 years old, who stayed behind in Iran.

We move along, passing by all the street vendors with clothing and shoes for refugees they have received from various organisations who distribute clothing outside the camp, who are selling them on. The queue to get food had already started, even though lunch was not being distributed for several hours. They know that there is not enough food for everyone, so you have to come early to ensure that you get a meal. The food being distributed is not appetising at all. Everything usually looks like mashed potatoes, but it can be anything that has been mashed.

We left the camp near the Safe Zone, which is the area where the most vulnerable, unaccompanied children reside. This is the zone where a 14-year-old killed a peer a few weeks ago. A Drop in the Ocean work in this zone everyday between 2pm and 5pm, but on this particular day, Karin and I were advised against joining the activities. This is because the youngest child, little “M”, who is 4 years old, had been acting out for the past few days.

When we are outside the barbed wired fence, we enter what is known as the “The Jungle” or “Olive Grove”. This is were most people reside. The camp has the capacity for 2800 people, and there are around 20.000 people living inside and outside of the fence. Blue litter bags were floating everywhere, and there was an abundance of people huddling around campfires, trying to stay warm. Amongst them young children. A little boy who must have been around 7 does everything in his power to put out the flames that have caught on his trousers. Another young boy is sitting by a different fire. He is wearing a bright yellow raincoat. It turned out that the coat had belonged to Nils, the grandson of our Chair of the board.

The trip through the camp affected us greatly, not only Karin who went there for the very first time, but also those of us who have been there many times before. For me, it was shocking to witness how much the conditions had deteriorated in merely a month since my last visit.

Outside of the camp, where we parked the car, there was literally floating with human faeces. Karin was luckily wearing wellies, because it was impossible to cross the road without stepping in shit, even for a parliamentary politician.

The Drop Centre in Moria Village

We carried on to the Drop Centre in the village of Moria. When we opened the door to the centre, it was like stepping into an oasis, compared to where we just came from. It was nice and warm. Calming, classical music was streaming through the speakers, and twenty-something people were sat in deep concentration, drawing and painting the most beautiful pieces of art. It was art class in the Drop Centre at that moment. We got a warm cup of tea and watched the talented artists who were fully concentrated on their work.

It was time to grab something to eat, and we had invited Patric Mansour to meet with us. He had worked on Lesvos for 4,5 years and had good knowledge of the situation and the recent developments.

We spent the afternoon in another camp, PIKPA, where we met Knut Bry and the two Norwegian teens Fatema and Ahmad from Ål in Hallingdal. 70 people live in PIPKA. Everyone had their own cottage with a decent amount of space. It is quite different from the overcrowded Moria camp. We visit Fatema’s family, and are invited in to enjoy some tea and candy. They miss Norway, skiing, and winter, and all they wanted was to get back to what they feel is their only home. I discuss with Fatema that we will try to establish long-distance lessons with a Norwegian teacher, to provide them with some form of schooling.

Visiting PIKPA Camp

In PIKPA we also visited a Somali woman. She has decorated her cabin with golden walls, and it felt like walking into a glistening, golden palace. The woman suffered from polio and was dependent on a wheelchair to get around. Despite of this, she managed to flee from Somalia on her own. She was tough, funny, and full of life! She talked alot, and fast, about the big issues she had had in the camp, as she previously shared a cabin with a woman who smoked inside, and another one that was messy. Now she shared a cabin with an Afghan lady, and she was really satisfied living in her golden palace.

After we were done in PIKPA, we headed back to the airport, as it was time to go back home. We were supposed to head back to Mytilini to pay for medications for the Kitrinos Clinic, but were able to postpone it by one day, so Ida could stop by. We left Greece, which was ice cold and covered in snow, left with memories and experiences that will take a long time to process.