First published in Agenda magazine 01.04.2020
A Drop in the Ocean have been present at Lesvos since 2015. Until recently we have been the only Norwegian organization working within the refugee camp of Moria. We have closely been watching what has been happening inside the camp, we have witnessed a camp that has become increasingly crowded and we have seen the consequences that has had for residents of the camp.
There has been a shortage of water here for a long time, and the sanitary conditions have been more than critical. Toilets built for a population of 2,800 can hardly meet the needs of over 20,000 people.
People live on top of each other. Some with their own family members, others with people they have met on their way or with totally strangers. Getting food means standing in a crowded line for hours, every day. It goes without saying that the advice on good hand hygiene, distance and isolation is difficult to follow inside the camp. It is simply impossible!
So far, there have been reports of 6 infected on the island among the locals, where an elderly woman died of Covid-19 a few days ago. Although the Greek authorities have implemented several measures to limit the spread of the virus, based on what is happening in the rest of the world, how long can this last?
We know that the virus spreads like fire in dry grass. Moria and other refugee camps are in great danger of being the driest place of all.
It can be difficult to imagine what it means to live in a closed refugee camp, without the opportunity of leaving. You may have seen the pictures, Erna, but pictures can hardly describe the harsh reality.
During our time present at Lesvos, through our various activities both inside and outside Moria camp, we have witnessed a human despair and misery that is difficult to describe.
We have met increasingly apathetic young children, children who engage in self-harm and we have witnessed suicide attempts where some have also succeeded. Most recently a few days ago. We have witnessed many fires, several of which have claimed human lives, and many have lost all their personal belongings. We have witnessed children coming to the clinic with severe burns. The fires that help keep people warm cannot be child proofed.
We have witnessed 4-year olds living without relatives in the camp, reacting so violently that humanitarian workers have had to evacuate. We have met single women, pregnant after being raped, living in constant fear and outrights fighting to get a pair of shoes that fit, during a distribution as unworthy as it may become.
We have first-hand knowledge of people selling their kidneys to human traffickers as a payment to be smuggled out of Greece. We have experienced hundreds of children gone missing. No one is calling for them, or cares about where they are.
That all this is happening in the front yard of Europe is well documented, but why does it take such an incredible long time for anyone to act, Erna?
And if you think that the refugee crisis is over, think again. Boat refugees continue to come to the Greek islands. So far this year, more then 9 500 people have fled to Greece. This is more then tree times as many as Norway has agreed to receive in a whole year. Where is the Norwegian solidarity?
You probably know that before the coronavirus came to Europe, several EU countries opened up for something to be done. Countries like France, Luxembourg, Finland and Germany said they would welcome single minors and families with children. This must have been a gift for you and the Government, Erna, who have been waiting for a common European solution all along.
We should not wait for absolutely every country in Europe to join this effort. Sometimes, someone has to take the lead. It could have been us, Erna. Norway, previously referred to as a humanitarian superpower, could have joined the countries mentioned above.
SV was the first political party encourage the Norwegian authorities to do the same. They were later followed by the political parties Rødt and MDG. Several municipalities such as Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger have stated that they will accommodate more refugees.
But the you and government have been awfully quiet, Erna. Instead of meeting an open demand to evacuate children and young minors from Moria, you hid behind the figures of Norways contribution when it comes to money and expert help. In the beginning of March this year, after Turkey opened its boarders to Greece, Monica Mæland, Minister of Justice and Public Security, admitted the following:
– We have been asked to accept refugees from Greece before, but our answer is no. Relocation of refugees is not a response to the situation we are in now.
Norway’s response was rather to send a number of mattresses, beds and tents to remedy the situation. Looking at the situation today, Erna, we find Mælands answer extremely difficul to relate to. Norway should have seized the opportunity when possible, because in the few weeks that have passed the situation has gone from to bad to worse! Mattresses, beds and tents will help no one in an overcrowded area when the coronavirus is now knocking on the door.
We do know that the European countries that have previously said yes now admit that the situation is difficult. At the same time, the European Commission will continuously asses what is possible to achieve right now.
In light of the closed boarders and strict control of movement, we understand that it can be difficult to transport people from Moria to Norway, but it shouldn’t be more difficult than to get seasonal workers for agriculture as your government have decided it should be opened up for.
Something that is really flourishing these days is creative ideas on new solutions. How about looking into the possibility of bringing refugees from the Greek camps to be agricultural workers, so much needed in Norway. Many of them do have backgrounds from agricultural work and they are used to the hard work.
And what about health workers so much needed in all of Europe. How about bringing some of the health-care expertise now rotting in the mud and garbage of Moria and other camps in Greece to Europe? These are doctor, nurses and pharmacists, we let go to waste, now when they are needed the most.
What if the government would give the task of evacuating children and single minors to the tourism industry? They have empty cruise-ships and hotels that can be used to help refugees, with the help of the government. This can prevent layoffs and bankruptcies in an now vulnerable industry. Isn’t this an idea worth pursuing?
We can promise you one thing Erna, all the humanitarian organisations are willing to contribute. The desire to help those who need it most have proven to be part of the Norwegian spirit even in times like this.
After all, it is up to you and the government.
Evacuate Moria now – tomorrow it may be too late!