A lot has happened within the last weeks and since the break out of the corona virus. A series of escalating attacks on NGOs and refugees on Lesvos forced many organisations to stop or reduce their activities. We also closed the Bashira Centre for security reasons in the face of the growing difficulties and have advised our co-workers to be careful.
Then the corona virus reached Lesvos and put everyone in quarantine. The harsh daily realities of life in Moria got worse and some of the women of the Bashira Centre were severely tested. N.'s tent burned in a fire that ravaged an entire line of tents and two containers. It was early morning and although N. was still asleep, she was able to get out and take her bag with her papers and very few personal things. Several people, including a child, lost their lives. No one from N.'s tent was injured but they lost the little that they had.
F. and Y. had to face a severe attack on their group while they were chatting with friends sitting in the grass outside the camp. The attack involved a knife held to the throat and kicks into their backs. One of our women had her phone stolen while a friend had his forearm broken and his hand slashed. F. and Y. were not injured but are still in shock from this incident.
Less violent, but just as important. F.’s blanket was stolen while it was hung up to dry after being washed. Always having to keep an eye on your things is a daily mission that keeps you on your toes and uses up a lot of energy. A blanket is everything when you arrive in Moria: it is precious, itprotects you from the ground, the cold air and represents a little intimate space you can offer your body, a shell to hide in and warm your body and heart. It’s impossible to get another one from the camp authorities and impossible to jump into a car or a bus to try to get a new in town during full confinement. F.’s only solution was to put on all her clothes to sleep at night. But word spread among the women of Bashira Centre living in Moria and solidarity took over: F. was able to borrow a blanket to spend the next night before being able to get a new one from the Bashira team the next day. Being part of the SAO network is a real strength to survive all these ordeals.
J., for her part, shares an Isobox (mobile container) with other women. The container is surrounded by tents of sheltering families. This week a group of young men from the camp came to attack the women in the Isobox. They tried to break the locks and stabbed the exterior walls with knives. The women were luckily able to lock themselves inside of the Isobox and no one was hurt. Later some relatives of Afghan families living in the tents around came to calm the young attackers until they left. Fear and stress have added to theses women’s difficulties.
To add to this black series of events: restrictions to movement on the island and the obligation to inform authorities of any displacement are being enforced by a permanent police presence on the streets. The blatant harassment of people of colour and of the Muslim religion is all the more visible. For example, a SAO staff member wearing the hijab was clearly targeted and several times checked and verbally assaulted by the police, urging her to go home when she was in her rightful place and when she had previously never been checked on the street before for the outbreak of the corona virus.
Even if I already knew it, for me all these events are further proof of the importance of the SAO Bashira Centre and the security it provides. These days the women can't leave Moria because of the corona virus but neither can their potential perpetrators. The horrible conditions of the camp are felt heavily on all: the psychologically fragile, but also on people acting it out on the stress with aggression. It is difficult to see Bashira members going through such ordeals again after what they have already endured. Nevertheless, these events, which we definitely could do without, highlight the need for the Bashira Centre, the Amina Centre and SAO.
Thank you all for your support of SAO. With your support we can continue to provide shelter and support at SAO's Bashire Centre on Lesvos and Amina Centre in Athens.
Sabrina Lesage heads the SAO Bashira Center in Lesbos as Program Manager. The trained social worker is from France and has a university degree in education and social change. Before joining SAO, she worked in France in a housing program for the homeless and victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Sabrina is a passionate traveller and enjoys relaxing with yoga.