In 2018, I went with a group from Corban University to serve in refugee Camp Moria in Lesvos, Greece. For six days I served with the team and experienced many different cultures and people that have formed much of my perspective on the world and on my purpose. The story below is just an inkling of my experiences in the camp, but I hope it can shed light on the refugee experience. The stories in my People of Moria series were written so that the people I met, people who saw family members cut down in front of their eyes, their homes and belongings torched, would not be forgotten.
By midday the covered area around the EuroRelief office was overflowing with complaints and requests and new arrivals waiting to be housed. Saudis, Iraqis, Nigerians, Algerians pressed close to the short fence surrounding the shipping containers that functioned as EuroRelief’s headquarters. Syrian translators were shouting Farsi and Arabic over the British speaking slow French listening and arguing attentively while the English-speakers stood silently waiting for an assignment.
I looked off into the sunny area just beyond the roofed area savoring the respite. A translator named Mohammed looked at me and yelled.
“Hey EuroRelief!” I snapped my gaze and walked over.
“This man tells me his tent is too small and he cannot live there anymore.”
“Well tell him we don’t have any more space.”
Mohammed spoke the message back to him in Arabic.
The man flicked his eyes blankly between the two of us, nodded, and walked away. I recognized him. He had been at the office for the past three days.
Two hours later he came back.
“EuroRelief!” Mohammed shouted.
“This man tells me his tent is too small and he cannot live there anymore. His children are sick.”
“Tell him we can’t put him anywhere else right now and to go to the doctor’s office and make an appointment.”
Mohammed told him.
He nodded away once more.
Not a minute later, and I was called into the office by a Mennonite.
“Your teammate Jeremiah needs muscle in section A. He’s convincing a family to make room for one more.”
“Alright.” I swigged my water and walked out. Jeremiah waited inside the fenced area, his frantic gaze searching for something, and I raised my hand.
“You doing anything Jon?” His eyes were wider than normal and he was breathing heavy.
“Yea they told me to come help you. You ok?”
“Yea I’ll be fine. Follow me.”
I walked just behind him as we undid the gate latch on the fence and walked into the crowd.
Moria sat on a steep hill, inside the remaining chain-link of a former Greek prison. There were three main roads, two that ran up the hill. On the road next to EuroRelief there were small shacks made from trash and old tent supplies lining its entirety. An apocalyptic bazaar. The shops played Arabic music loud enough to be heard from almost anywhere in the camp. We crossed over leaning, the hill being so steep.
Section A was the closest living area to EuroRelief. We walked through the shade of their blue tarps to the tent we needed to persuade to hold six more people. The family was gathered around the entrance animatedly speaking and when they saw us they walked over. They started yelling in Arabic and Jeremiah spoke intensely.
“We need to fit six people in here.” He held up six fingers, pointed away, and then pointed inside.
“No, no.” The father said.
Jeremiah motioned to the free space on one side of the tent and moved his hands to the side.
“You make room for six people.”
“No, no. Finish.” The man made a dusting-off motion with his hands and put them up in surrender and shook his head.
Jeremiah tried to speak again.
“No. No. Finish. Go.” He dusted his hands again and shooed us away.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around.
“Hey, Bri needs your help. I’ll take over here.” It was Bjorn.
“Ok.” I walked quickly back to the office while ducking under the tarps.
Bri waved at me as I arrived in the covered area.
“Hey Jon, this guy is telling me his tent is too small and he can’t live there anymore. I think his kids and mother are sick too.”
“Ok.” I smiled at him and he recognized me.
“Let’s ask the Mennonites what we can do for them.”
We walked into the office and told them.
“All you can do for them is sign them up for appointments. We don’t have any space.”
We told the man with signs and broken English and he seemed to understand. The man and his brother led the way from the shade. Our caravan stopped by their tent along the road that stretched to the main entrance. He motioned me over.
“See, no live here.” He pointed me around the tent as I ducked underneath their clothes lines arranged like webs. The space they had to live was 8 feet by 4 feet.
“10 people. No live here.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sorry.” I motioned down the road.
“We go to doctor now.”
“Ok.” The man and his brother nodded.
The man wore a thin black beard and a plain black shirt to match. His eyes were kind and he spoke steadily and respectfully. He was different than the other refugees.
His brother had curly white hair and wire frame glasses. Both men were shorter than 5 foot 4 and wore flip flops. The brother carried the smallest child, a boy, in his arms, while the little girl held his hand. The man guided his mother to the medical center.
An innocent family displaced to a place such as this. I saw my friends and family in their eyes and movements.
We stopped by the window of the medical center and talked with the doctor. He gave the man a slip for an appointment the next day for his mother.
They walked ahead to Moria’s entrance and turned right as Bri guided them. The children’s hospital sat in a dip next to the dirt road next to the camp. There was a large covered area next to the trailer that functioned as the hospital and they sat down. Bri and I made them an appointment while the man stood close. We handed him over to the woman in charge and were about to walk away when he tapped my shoulder.
A smile so wide and grateful and he bowed his head. I did the same.
The way back to EuroRelief I stopped to memorize the tent number.