Monday, December 12, 2016
The refugee kids who fled terror in Syria and Iraq, now facing a fresh hell in Lesbos detention camps
Forgotten families plucked from the sea after fleeing death and destruction in Syria and Iraq face a miserable Christmas in limbo on the island of Lesbos.
Extras and Ugly Betty star Ashley Jensen has just returned from a mercy mission to the Greek island where thousands of people are being detained after fleeing their homes and heading to Europe.
She was especially struck by the young mothers forced to bring up their traumatised children in bleak and unhelpful surroundings more akin to ‘a prisoner of war camp’.
Ashley, who has a seven-year-old son Francis, told Metro: ‘The whole atmosphere is desperate and desolate.
‘These people have the impression they’ve just been forgotten about - it feel like very little’s being done to help them.’
She was visiting in her role as an ambassador for Save The Children, the charity which this Friday holds its annual ‘Christmas Jumper Day’ - encouraging people to donate £2 apiece while wearing festive woolly tops.
More than 1million refugees and migrants have arrived in Greece by sea since January 2015 and despite European Union attempts to limit new arrivals, and force people back to Turkey, 850 more have landed this month - meaning almost 6,000 are still in camps or holding facilities.
Ashley said: ‘These people have literally been escaping for their lives but they’ve been virtually abandoned in this misery.
‘For this to be happening so close to us, on a holiday island, makes it all the more surreal and upsetting.
‘It’s too easy to bundle these people up as just “migrants”, a faceless mass, but speaking to them you realise these are individuals - these mothers could be me.’
Among those she met was a woman, Rahi, who was forced to flee Idlib in Syria following incessant bombing.
Her husband, director of a school, had already left with three of their children - and she later tried to follow with daughter Fatin, ten, and her sons Borak, eight, and seven-year-old Rami.
They made it to Turkey on foot, walking for 12 hours across mountain ranges, before spending ten days waiting for a boat crossing - organised by a smuggler - to Lesbos.
Another mother there was Efsan, who fled Iraq following a Daesh killing spree in her village - despite being pregnant and having an 18-month-old baby.
The family had walked for five hours before hitching a ride to Turkey, where they were detained for ten days without food and water after being caught trying to cross to Greece.
They finally managed to do so in a dinghy carrying 60 other people, before landing and being forced to share a cramped tent with seven other families at the main Moria camp.
After five days there they were transferred to the government-run open camp of Kara Tepe, where Efsan gave birth to a baby girl named Samal.
Ashley said: ‘
The Kara Tepe camp lacks hot water and electricity, but conditions are even more squalid at Moria where more than 5,000 refugees are thought to be staying.
Last month a child and an elderly woman died when fire broke out at the detention centre.
Meanwhile, more and more items collected from the shoreline get added to the piles at a so-called ‘lifejacket cemetery.
But Save The Children has been trying to provide some comfort and relief, with mother and baby groups and child and youth-friendly spaces, where youngsters can play, learn and relax.
Ashley added: ‘The Moria camp is so hideously over-crowded - it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s frightening.
‘So it’s wonderful to see these little oases of calm, where the children can be children - playing with glitter, painting, or just faffing around, even occasionally mustering a smile.
‘Despite it all, everyone spoke with so much dignity and honesty - but they just don’t know what will happen next.
‘Back here at home this Christmas we’ll all be focusing on what we’ll be doing, wearing, eating, eating again - despite all this suffering going on on our doorstep.’
For more information about Save The Children’s ‘Christmas Jumper Day’ appeal, see christmasjumperday.org.