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Lockdown in Moria Camp

Since March and after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot has happened on the island of Lesvos. A series of severe attacks on NGOs and refugees forced many organisations to stop or limit their activities. SAO also closed the Bashira Centre for Women in the face of attacks by Greek citizens and advised its staff to be careful.

Then the coronavirus came and "trapped" us all. For the refugee women, the already hard everyday life in Moria Camp became even more difficult and put them to a hard test. For example, a fire burnt down N.'s tent. Fortunately, she was able to save herself in time, taking her bag with her papers and some personal belongings with her. The fire devastated a whole row of other tents and two containers. People were injured or saw what little they had go up in flames. One child lost his life in the fire.

Two women who regularly visit the SAO Bashira Centre, F., and Y., were victims of a knife attack while talking to acquaintances outside the camp. During the attack, knives were put to their throats, and blows were given to their backs. Another woman had her phone stolen, her acquaintance's forearm broken, and her hand slashed. F. and Y. were not injured but are still shocked by the incident.


Less violent, but just as drastic, was that F. had her blanket stolen. She had washed it and hung it out to dry. Keeping a vigilant watch over one's belongings is a constant burden for the residents of the Moria camp. Although this may come as a surprise, something as mundane as a blanket is an essential and precious commodity in the camp. Blankets are handed out upon arrival in Moria. They provide warmth from the cold ground, harsh winds and allow for a small retreat for privacy. It is impossible to get a new blanket from the camp management, and it is not an option to hop in a car or bus to buy a new blanket during the lockdown. F. made do by putting all the clothes on top of each other. However, among the "Bashira women" living in Moria, word of the theft spread quickly. There was great solidarity. F. was able to borrow a blanket for the night before getting a new one from us the next day. Being part of the SAO network is a real advantage when overcoming difficulties.

J. shares an isobox (living container) in Moira with 20 other women. The container is surrounded by tents where families are housed. Last week, a group of young refugees suddenly came to attack the women in the container. They tried to break the lock and stabbed the outside walls with knives. The women managed to lock themselves in the isobox. Fortunately, no one was injured. Members of refugee families from Afghanistan living in the surrounding tents chased the young men away. Fear and stress, added to the already difficult living conditions in Moria camp, remain.



But it goes further: the restrictions on freedom of movement on the island and the obligation to declare every walk from A to B are enforced by a constant police presence on the streets and daily police checks. In the process, the blatant hostility against people of colour and Muslims becomes visible. An SAO staff member who wears the hijab was targeted and checked several times by police, verbally assaulted, and told to go home, even though she was running permitted errands and had never been checked on the street before.

Even though I already knew it, all these incidents are further proof that SAO's Bahria Centre and the security it provides are absolutely needed. Today, our women cannot leave the Moria camp and the camps in the surrounding area because of the risk of infection with the coronavirus. But neither can the perpetrators - ultimately, they too are victims of the conditions. I am not excusing anything when I say this, but it is certain that the unbearable conditions in the camp are difficult for people who are psychologically burdened as well as for those who are prone to violence. It is hard for me to witness that the women we care for at the Bashira Centre have to go through this - after all they have already experienced, endured, and suffered through.


Thank you very much for your support of SAO, which enables us to keep the Bashira Centre in Lesvos and the Amina Centre in Athens running.

Sabrina Lesage is the Programme Manager of SAO's Bashira Centre on Lesvos. A social worker by training, she comes from France and has a university degree in social education and change. Before joining SAO, she worked in France in a housing programme for the socially disadvantaged, homeless, and domestic and gender-based violence victims. Sabrina has travelled to many countries and relaxes with yoga in her free time.

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