A few hours ago we arrived in Mytilini. For the past two days, we’ve been walking the second part of the walk that most refugees have to walk: through the mountains and under the scorching sun, from Kalloni to Mytilini. And of course we as well slept under the stars, “in the mountains, in the jungle”. It wasn’t a good nights rest, if only because you know it is illegal. Yet, after two exhaustive days, it does only feel logical to walk on to the main refugee camp of Mytilini: Kara Tepe, near the Lidl. We thought we would be accustomed to some misery by now, but what we see in the camp defies any description!
Traffickers stacking 20 people in a dinghy of only 5 metres. Families with little children being forced to walk in the sweltering sun. Shouting Coast Guards. Friendly Greeks being torn between their humanity (help) and reality (an unimaginable problem and a minimum of resources). By now we’ve seen it all, and experienced quite a lot personally. But as we arrive at Kara Tepe, we literally fall silent. These days tears have perched, but here fits just thoroughly hard cursing. Is this civilized Europe? Is this the way in which the governments we choose treat human beings?
Around the camp countless refugees are hanging around. They seek shade under barren trees, at abandoned warehouses and even in the shadow sliver of the billboard of the Lidl. Somewhere along the road there’s a waterhose where Muslim men in underwear are washing themselves thoroughly. Apperantly faith and self esteem are on second plan when you’re on the run.
Even before we enter the makeshift camp we meet Mohemed, one of our friends from the North Beach. He knew of our plan to make the walk, but is suprised we really did. Right away he takes us into the camp and promises us a tour. Nowhere a policeman or camp guard can be seen. Anyone can just walk in or out. Mohemed tells us they feel nonetheless pretty safe and feel free to leave their tents: there’s always someone they know who watches it. I realise I do experience differently. I know some of these people, I know they’re architect or English teacher or lawyer, I know what they experienced, who gave them the second hand clothes they’re wearing and why they do not always fit equally well. And yet: some of them look like bums and for a moment I hesitate: is this safe, is this a smart plan? Nonsense of course, but still.
Once in the camp it is striking how hard the wind is blowing and how hot it is. Low to the ground mosquitos are attacking my lower legs. Dome tents are billowing in the wind and there is garbage everywhere. This is supposed to be a refugee camp, but it feels like a garbage dump.
Before Mohemed can lead us further, we meet more friends from the beach. The tough twelve-year-old Mustafa and his brother Achmed. The father and the mother with their four little children. Garage owner Seimad who was after arrival shivering, with his younger wife and his little son and daughter. All of them greet us as heartily. They’re happy to see us again, and we are happy they survived that hellish walk. Some of them managed to rent a cab that was willing to take the penalty risk. A few individuals got a ride by a tourist. But most of them completed the same walk as we did, with small children or not.
They explain to us they can hardly be at their tents during the day: it is simply too hot. Instead they prefer a place at sea or under a tree. We’re surprised by the dome tents. In a refugee camp, after all, you’d expect sturdy UN-tents. But there’s just a few of them. Mohemed tells us that the refugees have to buy their own tent, for about €30 in a shop in Mytilini. That’s not required of course, but if they don’t, they’ll sleep out in the open. Earlier I wrote that the refugee issue also offers opportunities for the local economy. But in these circumstances it seems to me that having to buy your own tent is mere exploitation.
And we haven’t even seen the remainder of the camp. And that remainder is many times worse. While we walk on the density of tents and people rise. Syrians supposedly are sent through after a few days, but we are told Afghans are there for many weeks. The toilets are made of cheap aluminium that shines in the sun. We want to film them from the inside, but the stench just is intolerable. If you peek inside, you’ll see shit sitting at the outside of the pot. The whole is a hotbed for flies. There are only two showers. A little bit further people are crouched around an electricity box: they’re charching their phones. We walk on and find the twins Ahmad and Taliq and their mother. They’re relatively in a good spot, since their tent is in the shade.
It is striking how eager people are to talk in front of our camera. Everyone has the same message: our previous stop was Turkey, that was bad, but way better than this! We made a difficult journey at sea in a dinghy, but that can’t be compared to this place.
And I? I am stunned and curse under my breath. How can this be in Europe? How can Europe, with our own Jeroen Dijsselbloem in the lead, devote so much attention to the Greek figures, but treat humanity in one of the largest refugee dramas of the past decades with so much neglect?
This is even worse than beastly!
And we have chosen those people who do this, shame on us!
Refugee-names in this article are altered.
As I’m not a native speaker, but do value correct English, I’d appreciate any corrections on language. Please type them in the commentsbox below and I’ll make the appropriate changes.