I’m sure you guys have read the news…things are changing fast in Lesvos and we have the incredible Sim on the ground, constantly updating us from a very raw, very human perspective…
Here he is having his beard trimmed by his good friend Bilal who was a barber back in Pakistan…
Sim has been working night shifts with ‘Better Days for Moria’ (amongst overseeing various projects by day and also sometimes as part of the beach rescue team…bloody superman!)
He told us how things started to change last week as ‘Better Days for Moria’ transitioned from being a transit camp, where refugees would stay for a few nights at most, to more of a residential camp in the sense that some have been there for over a month (increasingly like the Jungle in Calais).
The main reason for this is that, as of 28th February, Pakistani nationals were told that they can no longer register for their travel papers within Greece. Essentially, they can either voluntarily deport themselves or try to apply for asylum, the chances for which are very slim, and face deportation if rejected.
Consequently, most are stuck in a limbo and have no choice but to stay at Better Days for Moria in the hope that something would change in their favour. Over the past few weeks, over 500 Pakistani men have been making BDFM their home, alongside Iranians, Moroccans, Afghani’s and small smatterings of other nationals stuck on the island.
They have held two peaceful protests over this time, and try to gain some semblance of normality in any way possible – for example, Bilal. He regularly gives haircuts to other residents at the camp and gave Sim this proper (much-needed) close-beard shave the other day.
Last Tuesday night, plain-clothed police officers turned up at BDFM and forcibly arrested several Pakistani men from their tents, which stand on private land, putting them on a ferry on to Kavala in Greece as part of the deportation process. Sim and his fellow volunteers brought the rest of them down to the central part of the camp in an attempt to keep them safe, while patrolling the outskirts for any more police activity. We hid men in the kitchen, changing room and info tent to sleep, while some chose to sleep outside for the promise of a quick getaway.
Out of fear, many didn’t sleep at all.
In reality, this was inevitable. As volunteers there’s nothing we can do to stop the deportations. We can’t resist police activity. We can’t save people, we can’t even really protect them. A major part of Sim’s job every night is to try and re-assure the Pakistani men that the police won’t come for them that night, so they can try to get little sleep.
Sim has got to know them better over the last while, given the length of their stay, and that makes it that much harder as the hopelessness of their situation becomes clearer. These men are incredibly kind, polite, thankful and genuine. All they hope for is a chance at a better life.
Since the beginnings of the forced Pakistani deportations, a lot has changed… The last couple of days have been devastating and we’ll be posting a further update about the impact that the decision to send people back to Turkey, has had on the refugees, volunteers and situation on the ground…
Thank you Sim for your beautiful words and images, and your continual dedication amongst the chaos and devastation, we love you!