“Vietnam, eh?” says a Greek gentleman, moving the rubble on the ground with his foot. An acquaintance of his who is wandering around answers him: “I’ve never seen so much junk in my life. I’ll see if I can find a grill that fits my fireplace.“ A little further on, a group of Roma are loading some irons onto a pick-up truck.
In the distance, a crane is collecting the rubble of the largest refugee camp in Europe, Moria, on the island of Lesvos, destroyed by a fire on the night of September 8. Three weeks after the fire that made 13,000 people flee through the streets, those who hoped to recover some of their belongings have already been here several times.
By now, between the fabric of the burnt tents and the blackened olive trees, there is no trace of the inhabitants. Only many plastic bottles, unmatched shoes and slippers, many very small, a few personal objects. On the first page of an abandoned notebook on the ground, it says: “My name is Ahmed, I go to school every day, I live in Greece.” From the burnt-out camp of Moria, eight kilometers to the southeast, one can see Kara Tepe: an army testing range area that in just three days became a seafront camp for the displaced people of Moria, confined in precarious sanitary conditions.
“We do not have running water, the tents have no floor, the chemical toilets are very few and get clogged after half a day,” Mahli, an inhabitant of the asylum-seekers’ camp, tells us via message. Yiannis Bournos, a deputy from Syriza in the Lesbos Council, had access to the camp for an inspection. “There is no effective measure to contain Covid-19. I saw a child playing with one of his peers who was in quarantine, touching their hands: there was only a railing between them.”
Currently, there are about 250 guests of Kara Tepe who tested positive for the virus, 11 of them on Tuesday. Before the fire in the Moria camp, 35 had been identified. About 7,000 guests of the 9,000 registered in the new camp have been swabbed: minors under 10 years of age are not being tested, which means that 2,000 children are living in the new camp. However, the hygienic conditions are not the only source of concern: “The camp is exposed to the wind blowing from the sea, it is located downstream of a hill and the tents do not have a floor: none of us wants to think about what will happen with the arrival of the first rain,” explains Bournos.
So far, about 9,000 people have registered in Kara Tepe: according to the number of guests registered in Moria before the fire, about 2,000 migrants are still missing. As reported by the newspaper of Lesbos, To Nisi, the Minister of Immigration Notis Mitarakis admitted that about 2,000 migrants had fled from the camp in Moria. The “Movement for Change” coalition of center-left parties denounced: “No one knows if they left recently or years ago, and where they are today. This means that hundreds of thousands of euros have been spent on the daily food of non-existent people.”
“After registering in Kara Tepe, some of my clients preferred to go back to sleep in the destroyed camp, because the conditions of the new one are terrible,” said Asterios Kanavos, a lawyer from the Refugees Support Aegean group, which offers legal advice to asylum seekers.
In the days following the fire, when the migrants organized peaceful demonstrations to oppose a new camp, shouting “No more Moria,” the Greek authorities circulated flyers among the migrants to convince them to register at the new camp. The leaflet read: “Trust no one but the Greek government. Whoever is telling you otherwise is using you,” promising that once registered, the migrants could resume asylum interviews. The interviews, however, are for now postponed to a date to be set.
On Sunday, the entrance to the Kara Tepe camp is unusually empty: its guests have been told that they cannot go out “because it is Sunday.” On the rest of the days, they can do so from eight o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock in the evening, receiving a card with a number that they must give back when they return. Many people, after waiting in line for hours before they can go out, go to the Lidl next door to buy water and food.
An Afghan lady, wrapped in a red and white scarf, talks to us through the railing with an interpreter. What makes her feel the worst, she says, is that since Moria burned down, she has not been able to shower her children.
Nearby, Ali, a 25-year-old Somali boy, talks to his friends on the other side of the railing: he hands them what he bought for them. Ali was luckier than others: after the fire, he joined some of his acquaintances who were guests at a reception facility in the city, he registered there and as a result he can circulate freely even on Sundays.
“Things are not good at the camp,” he says. “Every day is a continuous waiting: waiting for permission to go out, waiting outside the supermarket, waiting to get the interview for asylum. People are going out of their minds.” Officially, the Greek government has declared that all migrants detained on the island of Lesbos will be transferred out by Easter next year.
On September 28, 700 camp guests who had been granted the right to asylum were boarded and transferred from the island to the Greek mainland. However, according to Vasilikì Andreadellaki, president of the NGO “Iliaktida,” which, in collaboration with the UNHCR, is taking care of refugee children, “the camp was made to exist for a long time. Documents were published with the amount of money that the Greek government was willing to pay for the rent of the land until 2025, while the municipality of Mytilene presented its proposal for an alternative camp.”
In the days following the fire, on the walls of the abandoned camp in Moria, another slogan appeared next to the words “Welcome to Europe”: “Human rights graveyard”.