Stories from Camp Moria: “Chaos, panic and much defeat

“There was panic and people ran away.” In the camp on the Greek island of Lesvos several fires broke out last night. According to aid organisations, the situation in the camp was already distressing, but has now become even more desperate. We spoke to three people involved

“The police stopped us

“I feel so bad at the moment, thousands of people don’t have a roof over their heads anymore,” says 14 year old Morteza from Afghanistan. He has been living in Camp Moria for almost a year now, together with his family. “We don’t know what to do anymore.”

When the fires broke out last night, Morteza was in his tent. “I ran right outside to see what was going on. I could see very little, there was fire and smoke everywhere. The fires could spread quickly because of the strong wind. There was panic and people were fleeing.”

Morteza tried to flee too, but it didn’t work out. “The police stopped us,” he says. “They won’t let us leave the camp. The roads are blocked and they’re using tear gas to push people back.” The 14-year-old boy says he himself was hit by the tear gas.

Morteza doesn’t know what to do next. “There’s still a tent we can sleep in, but I’d like to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“No human rights

“I don’t have words for what happened,” says 21-year-old photojournalist Yousif Al Shewaili from Iraq. “I’ve been through a lot in my life, but never anything like this.” Shewaili lives in Mytilini, the largest city in Lesvos. Before that he lived for over a year in Camp Moria, where he still regularly comes to record the stories of the residents on camera.

Since last night’s fires, Shewaili has been in and around the camp. “People now sleep on the streets, without blankets, water or food. The relief agencies do nothing for them. It’s terrible to see.” The 21-year-old boy wonders how this is possible. “Do realize that these are pregnant women, children, babies and sick old people. They desperately need the help.”

Shewaili sees how some of the residents try to flee to the city of Mytilini, but often without success. “The police have put roadblocks everywhere and the locals beat up the refugees. It’s as if human rights don’t exist here.”

In addition, the journalist emphasizes the danger of the coronavirus. “There are dozens of infections in the camp, but the hospitals are filling up too quickly. There are also too few disinfectants and mouth caps.” Shewaili sees only one solution and that is to open the border to the mainland. “There are enough hospitals in Athens and people can be helped better.”

“Chaos, panic and much defeat

“I talked to as many people as possible,” says 37-year-old theatre-maker Matthias in front of the Gate. “Look at them from person to person and ask how they’re doing and if they need anything. That’s so important at a time like this.” The Poorte has been on Lesbos since the end of June. He works in Camp Moria on theatre projects with children. “So we try to make them forget everything for a while.”

When he heard of the fires, Voor de Poorte was just home. He went straight back to the camp. “From a distance, I saw a great conflagration, stirred up by the strong wind. Closer to the camp was chaos, panic and much defeat. People slept on the streets in sleeping bags and on mats, if they had any. Others fled into the hills to the olive groves.”

At the same time, the theatre maker also tasted a good atmosphere among the people. “Together they try to create good moments. They even laughed.” According to him, it shows the power of the people. “The people here have been through so much, but they’re moving on. The people are also relieved, because this is finally the end of this terrible camp.”

For the Poorte is planning to stay on Lesbos at least until the end of the month. “I want to see right now where the need is and where I can help. I want to help the people here.”