We have been on the Isle of Lesvos for a few days now, sorting out aid, unloading and loading and unloading and loading, distributing aid and generally doing what needs to be doing. A contact had managed to find a warehouse to rent for a while and all of the stuff is piled high in there in categories that make things easy to find and easy to distribute. All of this takes time. There are some people who, as ever, are the ones who are very quietly just ever present in these situations. People doing the incredibly unglamorous work of manning a dusty warehouse in the middle of an industrial estate that could be anywhere rather than on a beautiful Greek island. These people do this all unseen and unheard, young people who have given up whatever they were doing and have chosen to man dusty warehouses to their bit for the world.
The situation in Lesvos, and Greece in general, changes by the hour. These people are pawns in the game of someone and are at the whim of rules that make no sense and can change like the weather. As it has been so cold many families have been housed in hotels and homes for the duration of the cold period. Apparently it is a particularly hard winter. There is, however, a camp called Moria Camp, the conditions of which defy belief or it should do anyway. I realise that my threshold of shock has been raised somewhat over the past couple of years.
The Moria Camp was an old prison and still has fences and razor wire to remind everyone that they are in a prison and some brand new razor wire and fences thrown in for good measure. People are LOCKED IN to this place and the conditions are less than savoury. Some are in the prison accommodation which is a Greek prison that has lain disused for some time so it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to picture the level of luxury. Many are on the outside in tents. I know I’ve gone on about the cold but it really is cold and people are quite literally freezing to death. Yesterday we heard that there had been another death at the Moria Camp. I went there with some others and was talking to one young man who is stuck there. He was saying how frightened he and the others in there are. How terrifying it is to be treated so inhumanely, to know that they are now in the hands of a Europe that does not care about them. In the last week two young men, previously fit and healthy young men, have died of the cold. Actually and quite literally frozen to death in a small tent designed to be slept in on a balmy summer weekend with friends and family. Not for someone to live in in these bitterly cold conditions and especially not someone who is seeking a place of safety. Suspend all judgements and imagine that it was your child/brother/father/cousin/best friend who has frozen to death because the relative authorities are too busy booting the political football about to give a damn about whether they live or die. Only two large NGO’s are allowed inside this camp and the authorities, i.e. the NGO’s allow them just one blanket. One blanket in this cold! A tent in this cold! I can very well imagine not being able to survive in this. It is shocking.
Yesterday morning another 4 young men died inside the razor wire fences of the camp. Apparently asphyxiated from a some kind of heater trying to stay warm. I don’t know whether that is a gas heater or from burning plastic or what, it’s hard to know what is what. Tensions are rising understandably and the authorities are rapidly trying to find places for people to be. Places miraculously materialising where previously there were none. The conditions defy belief or I wish they did at least. I have begun to realise that there are no depths to which the ‘authorities’ will not sink. Just the actions of Trump within one week of being ‘in charge’ is an indication of what is possible.
Yesterday 3 of us went to a hotel where there are 100 children with their families and we did some face painting which was chaos but at least the children were laughing for a bit and it made me feel better anyway. The parents got a little bit of a break. I see a change, though, in the eyes of the people. Before people were desperate but there was hope. Some of these people have been here for a year waiting and waiting for their fate to be revealed to them by an inefficient and inhumane system. People waiting to be reunited with loved ones, to start their lives, children waiting to go to school. I don’t ask people where they are going anymore because it is almost unbearable to see the quiet shrug of shoulders that is the reply. A reply that before would have been full of enthusiasm for a potential life that lay ahead. Now what I see is lack of hope and that kills people more than any other thing because it kills from the inside out. Without hope there is nothing. Even the darkest story has to have a thread of hope running through it. I’m starting to lose hope about all of this.
It is hard to remain buoyant in all of this. It is hard to feel that we are making a difference and are not part of the problem. I guess we are all part of the problem. It is hard to know where to vent all this stuff and what could be better than being buried under a pile of puppies. There are 9 puppies at the warehouse from different litters who were found by the side of the road without a mum. They are bouncy, very very cute and need lots of cuddles. Being buried under a pile of puppies should be prescribed, I reckon it would cure loads of conditions. The trick now is to not actually take most of them and stick them in the now empty truck and bring them back home…