Moria Refugee Camp
March 28th 2016
A week ago everything was normal in Moria. Wet people were guided to the clothing tent, confused people to the UNHCR for information, and sick ones to MSF’s clinic at the bottom of the hill.
The children were blowing bubbles and painting butterflies in the family compound. We had opened a women’s only room and the new team girls had deep cleaned the thoroughly. The women were content and happy with new hygiene items and baby supplies. We were thanking God for peace in Moria.
But on the night of March 20th everything changed.
We were reading the news like we usually did, and scanning the headlines without believing it might go into effect. We had learned to let the news roll off like water on a duck’s back, and we rarelytrult felt the ripples, but they were warning us of the new EU deal with Turkey. A deal that they hoped would stop the crossing and deport all the refugees back to Turkey after midnight the 20th of March.
On the 19th they told us everyone who was registered needed to evacuate the camp. We informed hundreds and everyone ran around packing bags and looking desperate. Crowds gathered to wait on the bus and all night we said goodbye as they were loading buses for the ferry to mainland, Cavala.
There were still hundreds of refugees in the camp who weren’t registered. That night they kept coming in by the hundreds. On the Turkish side they forced people on boats and everything got so out of control a paralyzed man and a blind man were trampled to death. One of the boats lost two babies in the water.
600 people walked into camp that night, with so many vulnerable, traumatized people. The new team which had arrived that week, with Mark and Jo (i58 Board Members) as team leaders, worked long and hard to warm and dry everyone. One women lay on the floor of the inventory room shaking and crying. Her legs were aching from being sat on for hours and her little girls cried desperately, afraid she was dying.
Abby held a set of twin girls, with their little heads full of lice. Their mother also had an older set of twin boys, who were had become mentally handicapped due to the trauma of bombs in Syria. And then there were the two women who had just lost their husbands, and a lady that was 7 months pregnant, and one who was desperately running from a husband that beat her and locked her up for the last 20 years.
Lives that had been ripped apart.
But that afternoon everything changed. We thought it might happen in the course of a week but Abby and I looked at each other numbly as we were told to have i58 evacuate the camp and as Police men in blue marched in and sat on our chairs and locked our gates.
We had to walk out in tears that day, with no idea what to tell the people inside.
The next days were a blur as we begged the police to let us inside. Crying people held onto the fence wire and begged for help. A few of us got inside one night to show them where the blankets were and help take care of desperate needs like a hypertensive man that had all his medication locked outside the compound. None of the refugees had any idea what was going on.
We ran here and there making connections with the police. As they got to know us, they let us in and out of the gates easily and Abby and Carolyn made bottles and calmed anxious Mothers inside.
While we were removed from camp we were still allowed to run the tea tent so we did that, serving thousands of cups of tea. The tea tent seemed to be the only happy and peaceful place to go and the sweet taste of chai and biscuits was comfortingly familiar.
How we prayed for God to keep the door to Moria open in this time of anxiety and desperation for the people. We clung to this verse in Revelations:
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
The next days we spent trying to calm fights and a protest from the refugees against the police. It was intense and draining, because we suddenly didn’t have the answers for the refugees anymore, and we couldn’t point them to the UNHCR for a blanket or to MSF for medical attention.
Everyone was tense, and so many were angry. We prayed for Jesus’ peace and tried to take care of specific vulnerable cases as best as we could. And we prayed. Mark and Jo’s team arranged prayer meetings and we interceded for the people behind locked gates.
That day we heard the compound gates would be opened and the people could be free inside the camp fence. But, outside the camp trouble was brewing as hundreds of upset volunteers geared up to protest against the government. They held banners high and started pounding on drums and yelling. A few of us went outside to beg them to reconsider as we were just getting some vulnerable cases in for the asylum process and the police were shutting everything down because of the protest.
There were 3 police buses in Moria that day and cops with body guards stood at the gates to ward people off. The drumming and yelling started and they waved their banners high. (You can look it up on BBC news.) Reporters and journalists ran around with all their equipment and the tension and excitement mounted.
Inside the anxiety and anger mounted too as a few hundred refugees gathered at the front gate, joining the protest by yelling. It got more and more intense till we were concerned about everyone’s safety.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. When we don’t know what to do so often we do nothing at all, and the vulnerable always suffer then.
The next day the compound doors swung open and the refugees inside were free to walk in and out. Their faces were priceless, like caged birds set free to fly. We had a meeting with the government leader in Moria and she told us she wants Eurorelief (who i58 has been established through) to come back into the camp. We called back to our new scheduler, Grace, to bring in the first shift again.
And then we realized that we were really the only active volunteer group left in Moria.
The camp that was a refugee transit camp a week ago has now become a detention center. The camp that swarmed with NGOs and information points is now almost emptied of volunteers except for Eurorelief’s yellow vests. This calls for new safety protocols and new systems for the i58 team, and also a plea for prayer from our supporters.
We find ourselves in an intense situation that we know we are called to work in.
Many refuse to cooperate, which calls for hours of time to build their trust and convince them that team i58 in the yellow vests is trying to help them and truly cares and loves their children.
Yesterday I walked into an intense fight and a young man already had a bloody face. My Syrian friend was yelling and the air was thick with hate. After talking and calming everyone they scattered and Jason brought a guitar in for one of the volunteers to play for everyone. An hour later I ran down to the second unit and saw around 50 people crowed around Antonis and Jason as they clapped and sang and cheered with the children. Tears came to eyes. The music was back in Moria’s family compound.
On the other levels a few kind volunteers from Athen’s Bible College blew balloons and played duck duck goose. The children laughed and the parents relaxed and I just sat a minute to drink in the beauty of happy noise instead of yelling and crying.
Please pray for team i58. We have no idea what will happen or how long Moria will still be full of refugees. We are full right now and there are still boats dribbling in. We are trying to plan ahead incase the boats start coming like before. Since no one knows what will happen there is still a lot of tension and anxiety. No one wants to be deported back to Turkey. Some may have the chance to be fast tracked if they have nuclear family in Germany or have disabilities ect. The asylum process looks like it will be long and complicated but we are giving them the information we can.
Pray that we would be willing advocates of love amidst hate and intensity. Pray for peace in troubled situations.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light, and
kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
Thank you for your faithful support to the i58 team, Lesvos, Greece.