On September last year, after fire ravaged the old refugee camp Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, located on the Greek island of Lesvos, a new temporary camp was built: the temporary reception and identification centre known as Mavrovouni, or Moria 2.0.
It has been 7 months now since the opening of that camp, and what was supposed to be a temporary solution is slowly becoming a permanent one.
I spoke with Fabrice, who I met on the island of Lesvos back in 2019, and who’s been living in the new camp since it was built, and also a former resident of the old Moria camp.
Fabrice came to Europe asking for asylum in February 2019, fleeing persecution in his country of origin, hoping for safety. Instead, he has had two rejections to his asylum claim and has been trapped on the island, living in the worst conditions of a refugee camp, for over 2 years now.
Fabrice, you have been in Lesvos for almost two years now and you have been living in the new Moria camp since September of last year, have the conditions of the camp improved since September or since the European commissioner, Ylva Johansson went to Lesvos and promised better conditions?
Yes, it’s been two years now that I have been on the island, the old camp was harder than living in hell, the life of every person could end in any seconds there. There was crime, violence, rape, theft, fire, no decent sanitary or hygienic conditions, static situations on administrative procedures. It was like in a jungle, everyone made his own laws as they heard it. All of this was happening right in front of the eyes of the Greek authorities who were incompetent and incapable of solving our problems.
Because there was a constant flow of new people, I don’t know if when they see us piling up and dying it did them good, until the camp was set on fire.
For the new camp, things started better. Now things seem to be a bit more neglected. When she [The European commissioner] came to visit us, we didn’t even have time to approach her. The locals of the island did, they had opportunities to yell at her and ask her how much longer asylum seekers would be kept on the island until they are assessed and evacuated to the continent.
For us asylum seekers who were supposed to have a chance to talk to her, unfortunately, we were not given such an opportunity. She was only shown the important places of the camp through a guided tour. She did not even have time to talk with women, young people and community leaders for them to explain some of our daily difficulties.
Her visit did not improve anything for us, the administrative procedures continued in the same slow pace, complicated accommodation conditions, hygienic and sanitary situation always the same.
In fact, after this, single women and families who were housed in containers with few conditions to cope with, for instance, bad weather, were relocated in tents made of weak fabric.
The money that the EU had spent is much more for the infrastructure of their country, asylum seekers are not beneficiaries, our situation continues just the same and is getting worst. Convoys and transfers to take people out of the camp and to the mainland are not happening as often. Now if you are done with the asylum procedures you have to organise your departure from the island by your own means, you have to buy a plane ticket or a boat ticket to go elsewhere, that’s the reality.
How is life in the new camp? Is there a lot of change in daily life and routine from the beginning?
Life in the new camp is still as always: stressful, everything can change overnight, the security situation is still starting to worry us little by little, there is insecurity that is starting to gain ground, there have already been a few cases of rape, thefts and assaults, people stealing phones. Electricity in the camp is still very unstable, the food is not well cooked. Women and children exposed to very unsanitary conditions and likely to contract all kinds of germs and infections. Continuous negative decisions, wave of rejections to asylum claims in all communities.
NGOs have reported the presence of lead exposure in the area, which is expected to impact and put in danger several people but no one is talking about it, so the situation is deteriorating slowly, in silence.
No one is paying attention.
A lot of people seem to take rejections and it becomes more and more difficult to leave the island, do a lot of people get deported? Where are you in your procedure?
Many people are taking rejections [regarding their asylum claims], those who are patient make appeals, but many are tired of the wait and fleeing illegally, buying fake documents. They buy documents that belong to people who look like them, then attempt to leave the island to go and continue their procedures in Athens. Because here on the island, the procedures seem to be endless, also with the everyday realities that we are facing here, it demands a lot of resilience and you can easily become really tired.
Deportations are still possible/happening for the moment because the Turkish government and the EU are still talking, so far it has not yet resulted in anything, that’s why Greece is not deporting people to Turkey, there is a lot of tension between the two countries.
For my asylum procedure, it’s not easy but I am persevering still. I have two rejections and I was able to make a third appeal. So here I am waiting for the judges’ decision. It is very complicated because there’re a lot of administrative errors that are committed frequently. They sometimes give asylum seekers results that are not theirs. And it takes time, really it takes time. Many don’t have hope or reassurance that they will be protected because most decisions are always negative, it is really stressful and scary.
Regarding the support available for asylum seekers and refugees, is there more available since the construction of the new camp?
It is really the opposite. It is a sad reality because we as asylum seekers and refugees do not benefit from anything in terms of infrastructure, all that we see the Greek government doing is for their own interests and profits. The camp where we are housed for the moment was supposed to be a provisional camp. But there is construction work happening in the whole camp, but not to make our lives better. They are building sewers, rainwater pipes, and roads inside the camp but not houses or offices.
We continue to live in tents and the sanitary facilities are made of plastic.
What organizations are present in the camp?
Between the organisations present inside the camp, I can tell you that there is a ‘policy of dictatorship’ which was imposed on them to be able to be present inside the camp.
They must accept the conditions and requirements of the Greek government to settle and work inside the camp, so most of the organisations that are inside the camp are Greek organisations and those which are not Greek have the right to say nothing or denounce anything that is happening inside the camp and their humanitarian actions cannot go beyond what the Greek organisations do. They are inspected by the Greek government.
To be recognised as having physical, moral or mental health issues, if you are not assessed in a Greek clinic, all your medical papers are not recognised.
STARFISH ETC ..
What kind of activities or programs are available in the camp?
Here inside the camp there’s no real program or activities because of Covid19. There’s a small school in Turtle Step, a program of the UNHCR, but it has just been interrupted for a week.
Here we have children who are not going to school, adults who are trying to integrate by learning the Greek language but they don’t have the means because everything is suspended and prohibited.
We don’t really have access to education. At some point, some parents organised themselves by groups and try to go and expose their problems to the Greek authorities but without success. The reason is always the virus.
Is there a lot of police brutality on the island and in the camp?
Police brutality is more based around Covid rules now, like wearing your masks etc.
When claims are being made here in the camp, the police repression is always brutal.
For example during winter in December electricity was not stable, we couldn’t use our heaters. So we took the initiative to go to the Greek authorities and expose our problem but the police did not give us time to claim for our rights peacefully. We were dispersed brutally.
How is the confinement easing inside the camp?
For the confinement, everything is going smoothly, the mask is always mandatory. If you don’t wear it you get fine. We were confined twice but for the moment we are deconfined.
To leave the Camp we have a system of numbers that represent our identities in the system. To go out it needs to be your number’s day. So if it’s not your day, i.e. if your number is not found in the system for the day, you will not be allowed to leave the Camp. We always need to send a message to be able to circulate.
How is your morale and the morale of people in general in the camp?
Here at the camp everyone is highly stressed and traumatised. The administrative procedures are way too slow. There are many cases of rejection, no good accommodations, or sanitary conditions. The morale is not good, especially for those like me who have been here for two years, we have already lost hope, nothing is reassuring, we no longer know what to do, still waiting for decisions.
Do you have access to a lot of psychologists inside the camp?
We don’t really have good psychological support in the camp. I think for about 5000 patients the Greek government has made available only one psychologist. Imagine when you are on that waiting list …
Thanks to MSF, which sometimes organises appointments and receives a few people with psychological, moral, trauma and stress issues, you have to have strong nerves to be able to cope with your problems yourself.
The police is always here day and night but we still have some cases of thefts being reported, especially in the area of single and families.
If you would like to support Fabrice who hasn’t received any financial support since last year, please message us at The Unheard Refugee Voices (@theunheardrefugees) • Instagram