Since September 2019, we have been aiding refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the crisis-ridden countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Fleeing war and poverty, their journey takes them to Turkey and then the Greek island of Lesbos on inflatable rafts. 80% of the asylum seekers are women and children. Once on Lesbos, they live in a makeshift tent facility where they are exposed to strong winds and downpours in the winter and extreme heat in the summer. The camp has no sanitation and lacks sufficient food provisions.
In early September 2020, the refugee camp in Moria burned to the ground. Thousands of people were left with nothing. With nowhere to go, they spread across the island, sleeping on the side of the road or at gas stations. After a few days, a new camp was built, but the conditions there were even worse than in Moria. Due to their location on the coast, the shelters are exposed to strong winds and heavy winter rains. The camp was supposed to be a temporary solution but it’s been there until today. The conditions are abominable. Tents are submerged in water and are constantly knocked over due to heavy winds. The residents lack basic sanitation, medicine, warm clothes, and articles of personal hygiene. They have no access to healthcare services and zero support from authorities.
In the midst of this chaos, Good Factory tries to stay calm and remember what our mission is about – the people. We cook for the migrants at Home for All, a kitchen run by locals Nikos and Katerina, and then deliver warm meals to the camp. We also bring clothing and hygiene products for newborns.
Prior to the pandemic, we would feed 4 groups of refugees in Nikos’ and Katerina’s former restaurant every day. We offered more than just a warm meal – we also provided a welcoming space, a safe haven to take a break from the brutal reality of the camp. Here camp residents had the opportunity to read, play games, or just relax. We also held work training for teenagers from the camp to help them obtain professional qualifications.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, however, residents have been forbidden from leaving the camp premises, and all training and visits to the camp have been put on hold. Because of this, we have shifted our focus to helping families, who’ve already been granted asylum, become independent. We are currently renovating an apartment that will soon be occupied by a migrant family. Nikos and Katerina will help them find work and get back on their feet.
According to the UNHCR, 856,000 people passed through the Greek islands in 2015 in what the media deemed a refugee crisis. It took two years for the EU and Turkey to reach an agreement. In 2018, there were fewer than 30,000 new refugees. But 2019 brought an increase – more than 60,000 new arrivals. February and March 2020 saw another surge in the refugee wave. Turkey, which already had 3,000,000 refugees from the east, stopped patrolling its borders, resulting in an alarming rate of new refugees. During this time, there were up to 1,000 new arrivals a day.
The Greek island has gone from refuge to prison. Refugees wait here for months, sometimes years, for an asylum decision to be granted. They cannot be transferred to other, better equipped camps because if they were to go to mainland Greece and were refused asylum there, it would no longer be possible for them to return to Turkey, where they came from.
Nikos and Katerina are the only locals on the island doing humanitarian work for the refugees. They’ve given up their carefree lives under the Greek sun in order to help others, fully dedicating themselves to their mission. In their own words:
We were afraid that refugees would bring new diseases and viruses to Europe, but the sickness did not come from them. We were afraid that they would revolt and attack us, but the attacks did not come from them. We were afraid of wars on the streets and cruelties, but the violence did not come from them. Let us not fear refugees more than we fear ourselves because everything we were worried they would bring with them in fact came from the world we so didn’t want to let them into.