Migrants on Lesvos tell NY Times “Better to Drown” than to be at Moria Camp

Moira Camp

Moira Camp

The New York Times has published an article regarding Moria Camp in Lesvos, with migrants referring to the “miserable conditions” and one man saying he would have preferred “to drown” rather than be on the camp in Lesvos.

The article goes into detail about the mental and physical conditions faced by the migrants and refers to the Greek government’s “mismanagement of funds” and the investigation that is underway “over why the camp is so bad when so much money has been provided by the European Union to help improve the Greek asylum system.”

The NY Times presents a few personal stories, beginning with Michael Tamba, a former political prisoner from Congo, who survived torture in his country and a dangerous trip from Turkey to finally reach Greece. The article states he was “stuck for months at the camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Mr. Tamba, 31, tried to end his life by drinking a bottle of bleach. The trigger: Camp Moira itself.”

“Eleven months in Moria, Moria, Moria, it’s very traumatic,” Mr. Tamba told the publication.

Here is an excerpt from the article published in the New York Times  

Moria, a camp of around 9,000 people living in a space designed for just 3,100, where squalid conditions and an inscrutable asylum process have led to what aid groups describe as a mental health crisis.

The overcrowding is so extreme that asylum seekers spend as much as 12 hours a day waiting in line for food that is sometimes moldy. Last week, there were about 80 people for each shower, and around 70 per toilet, with aid workers complaining about raw sewage leaking into tents where children are living. Sexual assaults, knife attacks, and suicide attempts are common.

The conditions have fueled accusations that the camp has been left to fester in order to deter migration and that European Union funds provided to help Greece deal with asylum seekers are being misused. In late September, the European Union’s anti-fraud agency announced an investigation.

At the height of the European migrant crisis in 2015, Moria was merely a way station as tens of thousands of asylum seekers — many fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — poured through the region on their way to northern Europe. Then, the numbers were so great, the migrants were effectively waved through.

Gradually, European Union countries tried to gain control over the situation by closing internal borders and building camps at the bloc’s periphery in places like Lesbos, where so many of the refugees arrived. Now they are stuck here.

Today, Moria is the most visible symbol of the hardening European stance toward migrants — one that has drastically reduced unauthorized migration, but at what critics see as a deep moral and humanitarian cost.

Outside Europe, the European Union has courted authoritarian governments in Turkey, Sudan and Egypt, while Italy has negotiated with warlords in Libya, in a successful effort to stem the flow of migrants toward the Mediterranean.

Inside Europe itself, those who still make it to the Greek islands — about 23,000 have arrived this year, down from 850,000 in 2015 — must now stay at camps like Moria until their cases are settled. It can take as long as two years before the asylum seekers are either sent home or move on.

“I have been in some pretty horrendous camps and situations,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, who is head of mission in Greece for Doctors Without Borders and spent five years in crisis zones in Congo and South Sudan. “I have to say that Moria is the camp in which I’ve seen the highest level of suffering.”

The group’s lead psychiatrist on Lesbos, Alessandro Barberio, said he had never seen such overwhelming numbers of severe mental health cases. Of the roughly 120 people his team has the capacity to treat, the vast majority have been prescribed anti-psychotic medication.

“Moria has become a trigger for an acute expression of psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Dr. Barberio said.

Rahmuddin Ashrafi, an Afghan farmer, arrived here in June with his wife, Sohaela, and their three small children. In Afghanistan, Mr. Ashrafi, 34, said their house and land were destroyed in fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan army. At Moria, the five of them now share a small two-person tent.

The family’s typical day begins at 4 a.m., when Mr. Ashrafi joins a line for water and bread that is usually served four hours later at 8 a.m. At around 9:30 a.m., he joins the line again for lunch, which tends to arrive after another four hours of waiting. Two hours later, he joins another four-hour line for dinner.

On the days when he needs to line up for official paperwork, or to visit the doctor — his three-year-old daughter was recently hospitalized with appendicitis — he sometimes has to skip meals altogether, or rely on leftovers from other Afghans.

“Before, I thought that Greece would be one of the best places to live,” Mr. Ashrafi said. “Now I feel it would have been better to drown while crossing the sea.”

There is growing acrimony — and now an investigation — over why the camp is so bad when so much money has been provided by the European Union to help improve the Greek asylum system since migration levels started to rise in 2014.

The European Union has allocated nearly 1.62 billion euros — about $1.9 billion — to the Greek asylum effort over the past half-decade, of which €1.1 billion has already been paid out, according to data supplied to The New York Times by the bloc. Over 20 government departments and nongovernmental organizations have received European Union money, a piecemeal approach in which no institution has complete oversight over how the money is spent.

A spokesman for the Greek migration ministry, Alexis Bouzis, denied any financial misuse on the part of the government, and attributed the situation to a small rise in migration flows over the summer, which led to a backlog.

*You can read the article in full here.