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A Refugee Family in Greece Loses Everything as a Camp Burns Again

Greece, EU Should End its Containment Policy

Mariam, an Afghan asylum seeker and her children in their tent in the Moria hotspot on the Greek island of Lesbos, on December 4, 2017. © Eva Cosse/Human Rights Watch

Mariam’s home burned down last night.

It was just a thin tent, big enough for two, the kind you would take on a summer camping trip. But it accommodated an Afghan family of four – Mariam and her husband, their 8-year-old daughter and their baby boy. All around was the chaos of Moria camp, the overcrowded “hotspot” on the Greek island of Lesbos where nearly 5,500 asylum seeking women, men, and children have been crammed.

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A huge mound of garbage had piled up in the muddy path outside the tent. But the inside was spotless. Blankets were neatly folded and stacked, along with small bags and backpacks, with clothes and precious identification documents. When we visited the camp two weeks ago and Mariam invited us in, we carefully took off our shoes. Then she shared a meal with us – us, who had passports, who were not stuck on the islands because of a policy blocking us from going to mainland Europe.

The family had been living in Iran, but had lost their refugee status, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, and unable to access services. “I was never able to go to school there and I didn’t want that to happen to my children,” Mariam said.

But children in Moria also have no access to formal education. “Zainab,” the little girl, went to an informal school run by volunteers, but it’s only open a few hours a week. “I’m learning, little by little,” she said. “But there are boys who fight and don’t let us concentrate. One day there was a fight and a stone hit my friend in the eye. I don’t feel safe here.”

The aftermath of the fire that destroyed the family’s tent and injured them and others on December 19, 2017. © Private/Human Rights Watch

Fights between young men from different nationalities break out almost nightly – an unsurprising result when stressed people live in horrible, uncertain conditions. Tents regularly catch fire, and last year virtually the whole camp burnt down. The police presence there is limited.

Zainab’s family had been in Moria for more than two months. It must have been a struggle to keep their tent so clean amidst the chaos and mud.

Last night there was another bout of violence and flames. A friend of the family told us they were injured, and we are trying to find out where they are. He sent us photos of their burned tent, along with a message: “they lost everything.”

This needless suffering is the result of Greece’s containment policy, and what happened to Mariam’s family is just one more reason why it should end.

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