Living in the Moria refugee camp: Life and education
The Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, hosting more than 20000 refugees is by far the biggest one on the Aegean islands. Moria is actually the name of a nearby village but became synonymous with the refugee camp itself and sadly with the plight of the people living there.
The 2016 EU-Turkey deal made the Aegean islands a dead-end for refugees. Over the course of the last 3-4 years, the islands have slowly ‘filled up’ with people who are seeking refuge in the EU but are not allowed to pass through Greece or other European countries. Some of the refugees on Lesbos have been in Moria for years and have never had their asylum cases processed.
The official camp is an old military base with high walls and barbed wire surrounding it. The containers which are used as housing have a maximum capacity of 3000 inhabitants but right now 8000 people have to share the space. The rest of the people, approx. 12000 refugees are living in the makeshift camps that stretch in all directions from the main camp into the ‘Olive Grove’. These ‘informal’ camps are not run by the Greek government. There, basic services are provided by NGOs.
People are living in little structures made from pallets or olive wood and tarpaulin, in UNHCR tents or in bell tents that were donated half a year ago by the UK. The least fortunate and newly arrived refugees have to live in small summer tents. They are given out by an NGO as part of an arrival kit but are by no means adapted for the harsh weather on Lesbos and are often shared by a whole family. There is no running water in the Olive Grove and no access to electricity except in the area close to the official camp where rogue wires have been set across the fence to get electricity for some tents and the shops on the main road. Due to these conditions, even charging a phone is not an easy thing to achieve in Moria.
According to the UNHCR, 42 % of the refugees are under 18 years old. Wherever you look in Moria you see young people. Children are playing tag and marbles or often enough just walking around aimlessly. Teenagers are hanging out by the shops, listening to music or chatting with volunteers. There is not much to do in Moria.
If you ask parents why they left their home, they say that they wanted their children to be safe, to have a life and get the chance to study. Children will say that they want to go (back) to school, young adults that they want to go (back) to university or (continue to) do an apprenticeship. But the reality on the Greek islands is a different one. Kids cannot go to school and adults can’t attend university or college classes. In Moria, and other refugee camps on the islands young refugees often lose years of formal education while waiting for progress on their asylum application.
Local and international NGOs and initiatives try to fill this gap by providing education and spaces to study and learn. I want to give two examples of such initiatives.
Credits: Wave of Hope for the Future
The school “Wave of Hope for the Future” was founded in early 2019 by a father living in Moria and is set up in a wooden structure just like the ones described above. His school became so popular, he now has a whole team of teachers who provide Greek, English, French, German, art and music classes to 1000 students in three classrooms.
The One Happy Family (OHF) community center, a few kilometers down the road from Moria camp, is run by the OHF NGO. Part of the center is the ‘School of Peace’ where English and Greek classes are given by teachers from the refugee and international community to 200 children and adults per day. Also at the OHF center, there is a kitchen producing meals for refugees and volunteers, a cyber café and even a ‘makerspace’.
Amidst Moria’s chaotic environment and the uncertain circumstances of the asylum application process, these (and similar) initiatives provide some normality and hope for the future. But spots are limited and there is only so much they can do outside the educational system. And when very basic needs, such as water, sanitation, food, and safety are not guaranteed and people have to queue for hours to fetch water or get food, education is not a priority.
Please support the important work of educational initiatives with a donation:
Wave of Hope for the Future:
One Happy Family:
Important note: On March 7, 2020, a fire destroyed major parts of the OHF center. The fire service suggested arson. Please help the rebuilding by donating.
Trapped on Lesbos: the child refugees waiting to start a new life https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/11/lesbos-moria-refugee-camp-syrian-teenager-family-uk
‘I get a lot of love’: how hope survives in the hell of Moria https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/18/librarian-moria-tales-hope-refugee-camp
This school at a refugee camp in Lesbos is a safe haven for children https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-12-17/school-refugee-camp-lesbos-safe-haven-children
Hannes is a Product Owner at Kiron. He wants to empower refugees through education and digital technologies. Besides his work with Kiron, he volunteers with refugee and humanitarian organisations and recently worked on Lesbos island.