For the past week, the 13,000 or so people who fled the fires in Moria camp, on the island of Lesvos, have been sleeping rough. At the side of the Mytilene road, they have no water, no food, no blankets.
It is around 3:00 p.m., the sun is crushing with all its might the camp that has formed along the road from Moria to Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesvos. Suddenly, hundreds of people go out of business, leave their shelters, and in seconds, form a line that stretches as far as the eye can see. At the end of the line, volunteers from an NGO collective begin to distribute food.
Thirteen thousand meals will be served. There may not be something for everyone. “The distributions only take place once a day and to have food you have to be strong. There is an organizational problem,” said Michaël, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
But the police quickly demanded that the manager pull the curtain down. The gas stations have also closed, as well as all the other businesses along this road which leads to the city center of Mytilene.
To feed themselves, some survivors of Moria ask other migrants who live in Mytilene to buy them food and bring it to them at the informal camp that has emerged. Others managed to save some food they bought in Moria from the flames, often packets of pasta.
Gertrude and Naomi prepare a dish of vegetables in a large pot on a fire. These two Congolese women tried a few times to collect food during the distributions but to be served is a struggle. “To get food, you have to fight,” says Naomi.
“Help us !”
Sitting on a large gray blanket flanked by the UNHCR logo, two young Afghan women who are both called Zahra bottle feed their 5 and 7 month old babies. “We brought back the milk from Moria,” one explains, holding up a small plastic bag half-filled with powdered milk.
The only water point in the makeshift camp is a few tens of meters away and is not official. In a street leading up to the olive groves, the pipes for irrigation have been pierced. Around each hole, several people crowd to fill empty bottles, wash clothes or rinse their faces. The water is constantly streaming down the small sloping street and carries garbage.
The only way to wash is to go to the sea. The beach is only a few minutes walk from the Lidl car park. Michaël would like to go wash up, but he has no soap.
A third of children
This afternoon, dozens of children are playing in the sea. The sweltering heat has also prompted a few adults to take to the water.
Azim vigorously shampoos the head of his son Moustapha, 3, while his daughter Rokhoya beams with happiness as she dabbles around him. After five months of confinement in Moria camp, this is the first time they have been able to approach the sea.
Parents worry that their children will not go to school. Life in the unworthy conditions of the Moria camp, then along this road, could also have long-term psychological consequences on these children, warns Dimitra Chasioti, psychologist for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
The environment they grew up in could affect “the way they deal with difficulties but also their interactions with others,” she describes outside the mobile clinic set up by the NGO a stone’s throw from the tents.
Among adults, it is the anxiety of not having information about their future – and especially the new temporary camp under construction – that is most difficult to manage.
Naomi seems as terrified of going to this new camp as of staying on the streets. This mother of a 5-year-old girl and a 7-month-old boy asks, “How’s the camp over there? Should we go?”
A report by Julia Dumont, special correspondent in Lesbos.