Wednesday, November 1, 2017

“Moria is like a Prison” CPTer’s reflection on Lesvos Island, Greece

By: Michael Himlie, reprinted with permission, first published Sept. 25, 2017 on

“Moria is like a prison” stated a Kurdish refugee at a demonstration outside the camp. This is a phrase said by nearly every refugee I meet and talk with on Lesvos. “Moria is like a prison” I hear again as I walk alongside the four meter tall fence lined with razor wire, riot police on my other side.

As I walk with a resident, or rather a prisoner of Moria, he explains to me the human rights violations and ill treatment of refugees by Greece and the wider European Union. He sleeps in a small room with nine others, receives one meal a day, has limited amounts of water and electricity, and considers a lucky day to be one where there is enough water available to take a quick shower.

I have been on Christian Peacemaker Team Lesvos project for one week now and been to Moria twice. Moria is found inland of the coast on the island, where the soil cracks from little moisture and the sun’s heat makes it feel far more like a desert than the Mediterranean. As beads of sweat role down my back, the smell of human waste assaults my nostrils from lack of adequate sewage instillation in the camp. Technically, Moria camp is a hospitality center for refugees to spend 25 days, there they are processed and begin the asylum procedures. However, these refugees are on a small island. They carry with them nothing but a few personal possessions and the fear of death or the memory of torture from their homeland, and in many cases they are stuck for months in Moria with no end in sight.

Laws and regulations for asylum processes are different for each nationality. They change often and without notice, confusing, altering and prolonging the resettlement process. Such changes on paper result in thousands of refugees being forced to endure the nearly uninhabitable conditions of Moria as they wait in limbo for their cases to be processed. In many cases the outcome is simply that the refugee will be sent back to Turkey, or what is worse, their homeland — both of which are extremely unsafe for them. “People have no future here,” states a Moria prisoner, who has spent 15 months there and is still awaiting the results of his asylum case.

Intimidation tactics are also commonly utilized by Greek and European Union authorities. Two months ago there was a peaceful protest that was led by Moria prisoners. In the night following the protest authorities raided the part of the camp where the Northwest African refugees were housed and arrested 35 black refugees. None of the refugees had committed crimes and some of those who were arrested were not even present at the protest. Nonetheless these 35 refugees await their hearing and face the consequences of years in prison unjustly. Court cases are still pending, but the arrests have depleted the number of peaceful actions, causing refugees to fear unjust arrest and deportation for speaking the truth about their lives.

Despite the harsh realities of suffering, there is amazing work being done here in Lesvos as well. Apart from the humanitarian aid work, accompaniment and monitoring, legal aid for refugees, there are also, arguably most importantly, refugees mobilizing and taking action. They are demanding that the laws which are already in place simply be followed by the governing bodies that have the responsibility and resources to help. There is much disparity on Lesvos, but also much hope and beauty. May their voices and our voices unite to add to this hope.

Hello, my name is Michael Himlie. I am from Harmony, Minnesota, U.S., and have been a long follower of IPN's great work. I recently graduated from the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester University, with particular emphases on mediation, philosophy, and religious bases for violence, with a focus of the occupation of Palestine under Israel, and the U.S. I spent one year with Brethren Volunteer Service, and worked with many peace and justice based organizations within the Church of the Brethren. I am working for a short time with CPT on the island of Lesvos, Greece, with refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece and the wider European Union. Soon I will begin full time work with CPT in Hebron, Palestine. To learn more about CPT, their projects and work, and how you can become involved, please visit Peace for the journey, Michael

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