moria camp, day 1

Moria Camp, Lesbos, Greece - 1/25 IMG_2160

Today was my first day working at the Moria refugee camp. I was less nervous than I thought I would be going into it, and thankfully it turns out I had no reason to be nervous. Everyone I encountered was kind and had a sense of humor about the situation, which seems essential. It seems common to make fast friends with both volunteers and refugees.

I arrived at Moria this afternoon, after traveling by bus with my friend Emma, who I met on the flight from Athens. We were just in time for the daily tour of the camp where the current coordinator for the day shift, Liska, showed us around and got everyone signed up and registered as volunteers.

During our tour we were lucky enough to run in to the (in)famous artist Ai Weiwei, who is creating a documentary and art installation on the island. He was very kind and answered everyone's questions, and even took selfies and group photos with the volunteers. I found myself surprisingly starstruck however, and couldn't think of anything to say to him besides: "You follow me on Twitter!" -- so instead of potentially embarrassing myself, I thought it best to not say anything at all.


After the tour I asked Liska where I might be most valuable given that I speak Arabic. She recommended I sign up for the day shift from 9am-5pm, and said she'd give me a walkie talkie tomorrow so I could make the most use of my language skills.

I got a chance to speak Arabic with some people a for bit today, but it was mostly speaking broken Arabic with three Iranians and one Kurdish guy, who each only understood a bit of the language. So communication was limited.

While I was sorting clothing in the Dry Clothes tent three (potentially) Moroccan men came up and asked for coats and warm clothing. I went into the back to fetch a coat for one of the men. After making sure his coat fit, I quickly made my way back into the tent to continue sorting women's personal hygiene bags. Another couple of volunteers came out to further answer the men's questions. They were looking for sleeping bags, and although Moria Camp has a number of sleeping bags from a recent donation, they're only providing them to refugees who can't receive them from UNHCR (which provides aid based on nationality). But myself and the other volunteers who were assisting these men didn't know the whole story at the time.

One of the volunteers told the men that we couldn't give them sleeping bags, but that they could get them from UNHCR. While this was happening, another woman was off figuring out why we couldn't just give the men one of the many sleeping bags at Moria Camp. She came back after the (potentially) Moroccan men had already left, presumably to get sleeping bags from UNHCR. She told us that they could be deported if they are identified by UNHCR as being Moroccan, and myself and two other volunteers immediately broke into a run and began searching for these men, trying to find them before they made it to the UNHCR camp.

I was the only one of the three who actually knew what these men looked like, so I ran to both UNHCR gates, scanning every male face around. I couldn't find them, so I can only assume that they didn't contact UNHCR about getting sleeping bags, hopefully they knew better. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing.