After a few sunny days here in Greece winter has finally arrived. Temperatures fell along with snow in places. And in most areas, this change of weather was welcomed cheerfully. People got to wear their winter-attires and turned their heaters on or threw a few logs in the fireplace to get warm. Some put one or two blankets on their bed before night-sleep and woke up drinking a hot cup of coffee the next morning. Winter is not easy in crisis-ridden Greece, but eleven years in, most of us have found ways to cope with it by now. Yet, not everyone in this country is in this situation.
Refugees in the Kara Tepe camp of Lesvos – swiftly built after the old Moria Camp was engulfed by flames – woke up early in their tents as snow and low temperatures interrupted their sleep. They were used to floods and muddy roads since the rainfalls of the autumn months transformed the 500,000-euro-a-year camp into a muddy pond (That’s the amount the Greek government pays to rent out the land). NGOs provided the refugees with wooden pallets to put underneath their tents and dug trenches to make sure the water would not wash them or their few belongings they managed to carry through their not-ending journey away. But now, as temperatures reach zero degrees, this watery mud has turned into ice and the roads and tents have sunk in a white, expanding sea of snow.
As of October, there were approximately 10,000 people living there. Imagine being one of them for a moment. Imagine having to go through frozen roads to get to a portable plastic toilet just to find it tipped over by the wind. Now you must pull it back up as snow keeps falling in your face and hands. Imagine having to start a fire on frozen alleys, with wet logs you had to go out and gather, just to be able to cook a meal for you and your family. Imagine having to take a cold shower in these conditions and then walking back to your tent as your hair and clothes are soaking wet. And then there are always the long waiting lines. One for the asylum office. Another for food and water. One for the NGO. And at night, the snow keeps falling; your feet and hands cold, your bones aching, your wounds open because doctors are not available and yesterday you slipped on the way to charge your phone. Your lips chapped; your nose blocked. All the while you are fighting to get a share of the blanket to keep warm, but obviously, it is not enough. There is no electricity and therefore no heaters. Imagine being the child there. The lone teenager. The ill-mother, or the tired father. Now its morning again. The clothes you left outside to dry are wet and the toilet has tipped over once more. You try to light a fire to brew some coffee, but the lighter is out… You have nowhere to go. You were trapped in the camp beforehand, but now with the Coronavirus outbreak, you cannot leave under any conditions.
This is life in 21st century Europe. This is life for people who committed no crime but to seek peace from a war that they did not cause or wanted to participate in. A war that forced them to leave everything behind, their homes, jobs, and friends, just to be locked in an inescapable concentration camp of torture. And to this, the Greek government has responded with a new announcement: NO (!) photos or videos captured within the camp… Thus they hope to deal with the problem. Hide away this misery and shame. But the howling whispers of those people can be heard here in Athens. I am sure they can be heard in Berlin, in Brussels, in Paris and in Rome too. They are carried by the cold wind and they repeat the same phrase over and over again: “For how long?”. For how long Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis? For how long Mrs. Angela Merkel? For how long Mr. Emmanuel Macron? For how long Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen? For how long [read your name]? Future generations will look back to us as the echoes of these whispers will still be heard. Politicians may stay indifferent to their crimes, but we elected them. Hell continues for the refugees in Kara Tepe and we ignore them. Those who stay indifferent are complacent with this crime against humanity.