I went to Moria. We left Mytilene at about midnight and went to Pikpa to pick up Sim and Lilian, another new volunteer working with the Worldwide Tribe. Dan and Anna went out to the beaches to look for boats, and Jane drove the three of us along the coast and then up the hill to Moria.
Here’s how Moria works. There are two main areas in Moria, the interior compound and Afghan Hill. The interior compound was recently closed to independent volunteers, and the only aid agencies allowed inside are a couple of large NGOs. Outside the compound an independent volunteer group called Better Days for Moria works to keep people dry, fed, clothed, and healthy. When a boat lands on Lesvos volunteers guide it in. They perform emergency medical procedures such as treating hypothermia, and sometimes hand out dry clothes or hot tea. There are rescue teams that get in the water to guide the boats in to land and pluck people out of the sea if the boat sinks or someone falls in. Most refugees have only a sketchy idea of how to swim, and their fake life jackets don’t help.
Once the people are on shore, urgent medical needs have been taken care of, and their feet are dry they get into big UNHCR buses which take them to Moria. Sometimes it takes the buses a long time to get there, which means that volunteers cram tired, freezing, wet refugees into their own cars to wait so that they can sit and warm up a little. Pikpa sends a decommissioned, donated Swedish ambulance to the beach with our rescue team, and Anna sometimes has ten kids in there warming up.
Recently the Greek Coast Guard and Frontex have been meeting boats out at sea and bringing the people into the Port at Mytilene. This is great because theoretically fewer people drown, but it also means that they don’t get the services the volunteers offered, such as dry socks and hats for babies. The buses meet them at the Port, and they come to Moria still wet, still tired, still freezing.
They all come to Moria because that’s where they can get registered. They need papers to travel through Greece and the rest of the EU, and Moria is the place to get them. People classified as war refugees, such as Syrians, can usually get their papers quickly. They go into Moria through one gate. People who don’t qualify, such as Afghans, aren’t allowed into the main compound. It can take them a long time to get registered, and in the meantime they have to sleep somewhere. At first that meant sleeping in the open on the side of the hill, with no sanitary facilities, no access to food and water, no shelter, no warmth. Then some volunteers, who are blocked from meaningful action inside of Moria, created a food tent out of the back of a truck.
Within a short amount of time there was 24-hour medical care on site, tents for people to sleep in, an information tent for volunteers, toilets, and the organization Better Days for Moria was born. Since its inception Better Days for Moria has transformed the hillside. There’s a tea tent where people can get hot tea at all hours. The medical tent operates all the time. It’s spacious and clean, and there is even a room with spare beds, so once you’ve been treated you can sleep there. There’s an enormous Distribution Center where people can get new shoes, dry clothes, and winter jackets. There’s a kitchen that serves hot food and hot chocolate. The tents have been winterized. There’s even a drainage system that channels into a little decorative pond so that when it rains they can sort of combat the mud. At night men sit outside around fires built in trash cans, chatting over tea.
It’s rough, but it’s beginning to be comfortable. It is no longer the hell of the hillside, even if it is cold at night sometimes. The people who come there get looked after. They know that they will not sleep in the cold and they will not go hungry. They are polite to the volunteers, they laugh and joke and show off their babies. Some of them help out around the camp. They speak languages like Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Urdu, French, and English. Everyone gets good at crude sign language to communicate, and translators swoop in whenever they can.
The night shift starts at one in the morning and finishes at nine. Depending on the night and the number of people arriving by UNHCR bus there are a few tasks that have to happen every night. They’re all equally important. I went to the Distribution Center, which meant that I helped refold and reorganize clothes, and if any buses came in I would help people find new clothes. No buses arrived while I was there, but I will certainly go back. I enjoyed the night shift, and it felt a lot more critical than working at Pikpa, though not as comfortable and stable. Remy, one of the Night Shift coordinators said, “We’re constantly in crisis mode.” And indeed, even though there were no buses we heard an urgent call for a medic around four in the morning.
I know what you’re thinking. I did not hear any drums in the deep, and though there were fires in trashcans I did not see any Balrogs. Disappointingly I also did not see any hobbits, dwarves, or wizards. I’m holding out hope for a coat of mithril hiding somewhere in the distribution center.