First Refugee Camp Experience
Yesterday was a big day! All our bags arrived, thankfully much sooner than I had anticipated getting them back. At 7:00 we headed to a level 3 refugee camp–Moriah, one of the largest–where there were about 2000 refugees, many of whom had come over from Turkey that day. At that camp their hope is to get registered and documentation so that they can take a ferry over to Athens. Here usually the Syrian refugees are distinguished from the migrants coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistine, Palestine, Morrocco, Lybia, Iran and these were just some of the people groups we interacted with there. Since the Syrians are automatically considered refugees, their passports are essential because it proves their status. For the rest of them, their status in Europe is still quite unsure.
Our team jobs were to clean out the rooms where the migrants from the night before had slept and salvage whatever blankets weren’t soaked or dirty so as to reuse them for the guests arriving. At 3:00 we began receiving ‘the most vulnerable’ migrants into about 25 rooms allotted for families with children, the elderly, pregnant mothers, etc. It is pretty hectic trying to separate out uncles, cousins, and any other older, single men to keep them out of these rooms since it is co-ed sleeping arrangements and multi-nationality all in one room. Not to mention that most of the migrants speak a variety of languages and dialects… It was quite the intense experience.
One of the hardest parts of the day was having to make decisions on who got access to a room. Not that the rooms were glamorous, by any stretch. The rooms are considered ‘full’ at about 50 person capacity, but usually there are only a few beds in each, and we would consider the space to be large enough for maybe 10 people. (Although the one photo below looks large, it’s only because the picture is wide-angle!) I had to tell two 8-9 month pregnant, single mothers travelling alone with 8 small children that they were sleeping on the floor, with no mat… And I would find them a blanket, if I could…
Some of these people are professional people from their countries–teachers, university graduates who speak impeccable English, medical professionals–all being herded into tiny cement rooms with total strangers, even national enemies, to sleep the night somewhat protected from the elements. I wanted to tell them I was sorry. I wanted to tell them I wished I could provide them something much nicer and I didn’t want to disgrace them like this. But all I could do was point them to their room, smile, and pray to God for the rest of their journey.
Children were everywhere. Many of them scared, some injured, but almost all of them brightened up with we’d give them a smile or a high-five. Being here it is hard to imagine the North American attitudes of those who think we shouldn’t look after these ‘potential terrorists,’ when nearly every square meter of the camp is covered with children under the age of 5. Certainly, there are those who are taking advantage of the crisis in order to come to Europe, however, after watching mothers weep over their sick, hospitalized, injured, missing or dead children we feel in awe of the opportunity to hand out a hot cup of tea to these people in Jesus’ name.
Pray for us for energy, and the ability to process what we are experiencing in the midst of the chaos.