Moria: The Darkness at The End of The Tunnel

Ursula Greig-Steinmetz, Staff Writer

7 February 2019

Graffiti at a refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos   Image Source:    Wikimedia Commons,    User: Mstyslav Chernov  

Graffiti at a refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, User: Mstyslav Chernov  


There are currently over 25.4 million refugees worldwide, half of whom are under eighteen. By May of 2018, 60 000 refugees and migrants had arrived in Greece. 14 000 of these migrants and refugees have resided on Greece’s islands. Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp is situated in Lesbos, a Greek island located in the northern Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey, and is funded by the European Union (EU). It has been labeled as the worst refugee camp in the world. Rahmuddin Ashrafi, an Afghan farmer said “…I feel it would have been better to drown while crossing the sea” while addressing his experience living on the camp. This statement reflects a common sentiment present in many of the refugees residing on Moria. Fleeing violent conflicts, persecution and torture, Moria is far from the safe haven most hope to find at the end of their treacherous journey. The camp lodges over nine thousand people, operating at over three times its capacity. It does not have the proper sanitation and hygiene infrastructure or resources and staff to safely accommodate such overcrowding. This has lead to the deterioration of living conditions within the camp and disastrous consequences.

The condition of hygiene and cleanliness on the camp contributes largely to the level of misery experienced by the residents: the camp is covered in garbage, the air is unbreathable, they lack toilets and showers (one shower per eighty four people, one toilet per seventy two), and have a faulty sewage system prone to leaking. The leaks often reach people’s mattresses. Additionally, the camp is extremely unsafe and there is a frequent occurrence of  physical and sexual assault. The presence of many different ethnic groups has led to conflicts among them resulting in multiple stabbings. Women and girls are afraid of walking around the camp after dark and using the bathroom because of the prevalence of rape.

Those arriving at Moria are extremely vulnerable due to the immense trauma they have suffered that the camp is not equipped to deal with. Additionally, the unsafe, insecure and squalid conditions refugees are subjected to often magnify their mental health issues, triggering episodes of psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide attempts.Due to insufficient staff, aid groups are only able to provide psychological support to the most extreme cases, leaving hundreds of refugees without proper assessments and treatments. A team from Doctors Without Borders has described the camp as being an “open air mental asylum”, due to the extent and gravity of mental health issues. Of the asylum seekers that attended the mental health center, 30% had attempted suicide, and 60% had considered it. One example among many is that of Michael Tamba, a former political prisoner from Congo. He suffered through torture in Congo and the boat trip to Greece, but what led him to attempt suicide was living on Moria refugee camp, describing his experience as traumatic. Suicide attempts have become a common occurrence, and have been increasingly reported amongst children as young as ten years old.

Both the camp and the EU have come under fire as reports of the living conditions have been released. There have been numerous criticisms and questions raised on how the situation escalated to such an alarming, abhorrent level. There are many possible contributing factors that have made Moria uninhabitable. There have been allegations of misuse of the EU funds allocated to Greece in order to deal with the refugee crisis. Since 2015, Athens has received 1.6 Billion euros. Greece’s former defence minister, Panos Kammenos, vehemently denied any misuse of the funds. Alexis Bouzis, a spokesman for the Greek ministry insists the quality of living conditions are a result of impromptu rises in migration flows. However, the accounts of aid groups differ, claiming they have been calling for increased facilities in response to increasing migrants but have been ignored for years. Additionally, the deal struck between Turkey and the EU back in 2016 stipulated that refugees cannot leave the Greek Islands once they have arrived, in an effort to slow down the flow of migration. This deal, combined with the slow asylum request process, leads to a build up of refugees stuck on the greek islands nearest Turkey. There they are forced to miserably wait for their asylum requests to be processed, which can last anywhere from months to years.

Although it has been deemed the worst refugee camp in Europe, Moria is just one among many other underfunded and understaffed refugee camps across the continent, pointing to an even bigger, global issue. With more displaced people than ever before, the international community has the responsibility of finding concrete and sustainable solutions to resettle the millions of people fleeing violent conflict and persecution. There is an urgent need to implement a more efficient, empathetic way of dealing with refugees and asylum requests. The inhumane conditions of the Moria camp reflect our failure to adequately respond to the refugee crisis and assist the most vulnerable.