I asked my dear friend Izi to write a piece for World Refugee day. Izi has worked in Greece for a number of years now and she has seen the hardships that refugees and asylum seekers experience on a daily basis.
After studying psychology at Exeter University and obtaining a Masters degree in Law and Gender Studies from SOAS University, Izi took the opportunity to return to Lesvos and run a community centre providing life giving support.
I am sure that you will be inspired to help refugees and asylum seekers to find their new normal after reading what Izi has to say.
In the past weeks, we have known what it is to be separated from those we love. Friends, family and familiar faces. In many ways, we’ve had the rug pulled from underneath our feet, and have had to find a new “normal”. This experience is one that my friends in Lesvos know all too well. Whatever reason people have had to flee – war, persecution, gender-based violence, extreme poverty etc. – they now find themselves stuck in Lesvos, without their loved ones, trying to find a new “normal”.
Since 2015, over 1.2 million people have arrived in Greece and started the process of seeking asylum. Lesvos is the entry point into Europe, meaning that the island has borne the brunt of the crisis. Lesvos’ Moria Camp, the largest camp in Europe, houses 20,000 people in a space designed for 3,000. This seems like an incomprehensible number, but it represents very real people.
In the current climate of Covid-19, asylum-seekers are not able to self-isolate or social distance in such cramped living conditions. Access to water, showers and toilets is limited, and you can only imagine how hard it is to keep a tent clean in the dusty olive groves in which Moria is enclosed.
Working inside camp is so strange – you hate it and you love it. Hate that it has to exist, but love the people it contains. Having left University and wanting to help where the need was, I had high expectations of Europe’s response to people in crisis. I was horrified at what I found. The disarray urged me to stay and at least do something, as a European, to show that these people matter. That they have not been forgotten.
I remember the first time that I went to the Life Jacket Graveyard. Thousands of discarded life jackets were piled into a huge mountain. The quietness was eerie and uncomfortable. The second time I went, after many months of working inside camp, I didn’t notice silence. Each vest seemed imbued with the laughter, grief and vibrancy of my friends in Moria. Friends that face uncertainty, as asylum applications are slow to process, and have now been halted altogether.
My Psychology background made me aware that a sense of purpose, community and safety are vital in achieving and maintaining good mental health. This led me to leave working inside camp and start partnering with community centres that were trying to provide this. Seeing the difference in people’s faces after spending time with us in a place of refuge, was very emotional. Whether we provided showers, activities, taught English or simply shared a cup of tea, people reaped joy from the investment we planted in them.
My hope is that the world would not forget asylum-seekers in these times. That instead, we would choose to invest in them. Anyone can have the rug pulled from underneath their feet. We must do what we can to help each other in our hours of need.
If you have resettled refugees in your neighbourhood, see how you can walk alongside them as they find a new “normal”.
You can also partner with the vital work in Lesvos by donating or volunteering.
Support work inside Moria camp – https://eurorelief.net/
Support a community centre just outside Moria camp – https://all4aid.org/