GREECE: Moria, plea for freedom and improved living conditions for refugees detained in a camp on Lesbos


20 June 2017

GREECE: Moria, plea for freedom and improved living conditions for refugees detained in a camp on Lesbos.

by: Aaron Kaufmann,

CPT Europe regional project coordinator 

I do not know how the town of Moria got its name. Perhaps it has a specific meaning in Greek, a language in which I lack any skill. Perhaps it was the name of its founder. Whatever the case may be, when I hear it, my mind is instantly drawn to thoughts of the fallen Dwarven stronghold of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is probably not fair to compare Moria, Lesbos to Tolkien’s Moria, a deserted underground cavern void of hope that has become the mass grave of an entire city — especially since I have never been invited by a wizard or dwarf to visit it. There is, however, near the Greek town a camp sharing its name, and the comparison between these two tragic places is painfully apt.

I have never been inside the camp of Moria either, but I have seen it from the outside. Fences hold the asylum seekers inside. Moria is not officially a camp — it is a “reception center” for refugees, who are “received” and locked straight away. They spend 25 days locked inside. Their first 25 days in the “enlightened and free West” are spent behind walls topped with razor wire. They are forced to sleep in rows on the ground. They may perhaps be given a blanket, if they are lucky. And they are expected to refrain from complaining. Sometimes there is running water, sometimes not. This place, if anywhere, is a trap and a tomb. It is a grave for hope. It is where humans, like the dwarves of Tolkien’s stories, wait around to expire, their dreams and aspirations all but dead. One man told me, “I would rather have died from a bomb in my own country than die like this in a ‘free’ country.”

Crown close to the fence.

I have an acquaintance who lives there, but I cannot visit him. No one is allowed in. The authorities know the residents are hardly treated as human and they do not want anyone to see it. Armed guards stand watch, checking credentials. This may well be the only place where only people who can prove that they are refugees may enter freely. My friend wrote a poem about what it is like there in that pit of desperation and despair:

We lie in the bushes while they lie on their beds.
We sleep separated from our wives while they sleep beside their wives.
We sleep in tents while they sleep in houses.
We bathe in cold water while they bathe in warm.
We queue for food as they prepare their own breakfast.
They educate their children but keep ours out of school.
They get competent medical attention while we get paracetamol for everything.
All of us eat the food of their choice.

We sacrificed our lives to come to your country.
We are strong at heart,
Great in talent,
Committed to our future,
and loyal to our country.

We fight relentlessly to win our freedom.
We are refugees, not criminals.
All we seek is our freedom—freedom to move forward.
We too want to sleep beside our wives.
We too want to our children to be educated.

Hate put us into this situation,
and love will give us our freedom.
But we can’t do it alone–
We can only do it with the help of the Greeks.

Tents above Moria

My friend wrote this heartfelt plea in an attempt to find people who would listen to his voice. He only wishes for others to know the struggles of those whom the West deem to be different — different enough to be forsaken and left to wallow in the muck and mire that is Moria. With that I will leave you with a quotation from Robert Augustus Masters:

We need to recognize — and recognize with our whole being — that what we do to another, both in action and intention, we do to ourselves. Such recognition does not necessarily mean that we should stop protecting ourselves, but that we stop over budgeting for defense, stop dehumanizing others, and not leave our heart out of whatever measures we may need to take.

Little girls in Moria