Under the terms of the EU Turkey agreement of March 2016, refugees arriving on Lesbos are taken to a former military camp called Moria. It has become dangerously overcrowded, and now houses around 5,200 people, some of whom have been waiting eighteen months to two years for decisions on their asylum claims. There has been a lot of trouble there this week, with confrontations between the Greek police and some of the refugees.
On one side of the road that passes Moria, the hilly terrain is planted with olive groves. Make-shift cafes have been set up on the verge, selling tea and hot food. Camp dwellers mill about in the road all day long, many with an air of listlessness bordering on despair. Everyone seems to be waiting, and waiting, and waiting. There is virtually nothing to do. Today I was sitting on the ground at the entrance to the camp, waiting for a lift to Mytilini, observing a young lad who I took to be in his early 20s talking excitedly to an older couple and a pregnant woman. If someone had asked me where I thought they were from, I might have said Mongolia. They were stocky with golden skin and broad cheeks. Two African women walked past carrying a big bag between them and the young man called out ‘where you from?’. When the women replied ‘Congo,’ he started beating his knees and shouting ‘bonga! Bonga!’ Here we go, I thought. Moria is dominated by young men and is a very difficult place for women. African women, I think, are in a small minority.
A few moments later the man started up a conversation with me. His English was good. ‘I’m a refugee in Germany,’ he said, ‘but my parents have just arrived, so I’ve come here to be with them. We’re Afghans.’ The lad said he was only sixteen. At thirteen he’d made the journey from Kabul to Germany, alone, stopping briefly in Greece. He got out his phone and showed me several photos of the German family who’d fostered him. ‘That’s my German mother, and my German sister’.
I asked what it had been like. ‘It was great,’ he replied, ‘they were so good to me. They sorted me out, I went to school, I learned German.’
‘Are you going back?’
‘I can go there any time I want, I’ve got German citizenship, but for now I want to be with my parents, and they can’t leave Moria.’ He gestured at the woman standing beside him. ‘This is my mum.’
‘I bet you were happy when you saw them, after those three years!’
‘Happy?’ The lad looked at me as if I was a fool. ‘I cried, I was so happy.’