Standing in a cramped aluminum container building with two small folding desks, a bench, and an essential wall unit air conditioner, Conscience International Program Coordinator Jeremy Holloman is at the center of a turbulent village of 5,000 refugees from thirty nations.
For the past two years he and his wife Marianna and their two boys, Samuel and Vance, have lived in Greece, sharing the lives of its multitude of refugees and migrants. Jeremy leads a rotating team of volunteers, all of whose daily tasks involve managing the housing and other needs of the inhabitants of Moria Camp. It is located on Lesbos, Greece’s third largest island, which in normal times is a paradise and a major European tourist destination.
The overcrowded camp, a former military installation with double fences and barbed wire, has a distinct ‘Gitmo’ air. Its hot, dusty roads are dotted with aluminum ISOBOX containers, large Rubbhall tents, and many smaller camping tents, a last resort due to overcrowding. There are many families with kids plus a few women and older folks lying listlessly on blankets or cots pulled outside from their stifling tents, waiting until the Greek government processes their applications for asylum. For many, the days have turned into weeks and months. European Union countries are becoming reluctant to accept more refugees, and Turkey is not anxious to accept those rejected. So they sit and wait.
On a normal day Holloman is responsible for evaluating crises, dispatching youthful volunteer aid workers from several countries to various parts of the camp to solve minor problems, and find space for the influx of new arrivals. Most of them are fleeing war and violence in Syria and Afghanistan. Many have endured repeated trauma from robbery, beatings, and near drowning. This stop constitutes only one leg of their often treacherous journey towards their goal of political asylum in Europe.
For most of the new arrivals the passage has been so treacherous that they are left traumatized. Not only have they risked their lives under the guidance of hardened, uncaring smugglers who send them on boats stuffed with people, sometimes with fake life vests filled with grass rather than a real flotation device, but have survived the crossing anyway, acutely aware that thousands of people have actually drowned on the very same journey.
Conscience International distributes blankets and clothing and helps provide shelter at the giant Moria refugee camp on Lesbos Island, Greece, where our teams have been working since September, 2015.
Moria Camp is actually a dusty canvas village, plopped down in one of the most beautiful islands on the planet, housing people from 30 nations in incredibly crowded conditions. Typically up to 5,000 terribly cramped inhabitants are housed in a camp originally designed for 1,500. At a migrant camp near Athens, one ISOBOX houses about 6 people, but in Moria it is sometimes 17 to 20, all of whom sleep on the floor. The camp therefore falls woefully below the UN standard for square meters per person of living space. One night two winters ago more than 3,500 migrants were forced to flee the camp in the middle of the night because someone set a fire as a protest, burning more than a hundred tents and shelters. The camp has experienced many other protests and several major riots, which are put down by local police backed by special units of the Greek army. Luckily things usually settle down after a dispute and the camp goes back to normal—it’s just another day at Moria Camp on the interminable journey of migrants who still look longingly for security, freedom, and opportunity.
Conscience International continues to urge the European Union to open its doors and comply with International Humanitarian Law by accepting those fleeing war and violence in their own country. [Journalist Sheri Jennings contributed to this report from Moria Camp].