After the Moria Fires: Letter to locals

I don’t usually write long posts, nor am I a fan of inviting emotional responses, but everything has its limits. As a refugee worker but also as a local, I can truly understand the strong reactions and emotions of the local community to the fires that burned down Moria refugee camp last week – even if some locals are unable to believe that. Working for an ‘NGO’ supporting refugees on Lesvos for some locals now means you are the enemy. Lena Altinoglou’s blog “Spiral of Hate’ clearly describes how polarised the island has become in its attitudes to refugees.

BUT what I cannot understand is how you, my generation, young local people in your 20s and 30s put all refugees into one bad bag and then post on social media that “they” set fire to their camp, “they” did this to themselves, and “well done”, and we don’t feel sorry for them. “They” have only themselves to blame.

To you, people of my generation on social media, I want to say this. Even if 100 or 200 or even 500 refugees set fire to the camp, how could the other 12,000 people who are now living on the streets, families with new-born babies, the sick and elderly people who are now suffering  in the 35 degree-heat of the summer sun without water, what exactly have they done wrong? Is it their fault that they have been bombed out of their homes, made horrendous, dangerous journeys to safety only to get stuck for months and years in the hell of Moria?

To you, as you post your hateful feelings on social media I want to say this. Have you ever been stopped by kids living on the street begging for water? Have you ever had a mother who gave birth in the street with a new-born baby in her arms crying asking you for help? Have you ever been faced with people crying in front of you and just screaming why? Why?

I don’t think this could have happened to you on the beach of Eressos drinking cocktails, not even in the trendy shops, not in the cafes where you brunch and post pictures of your beautiful lunch on insta. Ahh not in the hamam where you hang out or by the pool, not in the car with #ontheroad when you go for a coffee in Agiasos. How much has your life really been affected by the people living in Moria? What makes you think you have the right to speak about or for 13.000 people?

So to all of you who usually love kids and who show your love on social media I want to dedicate this child’s drawing to you. When your life has been affected like this child’s life has been and when you have experienced what this child has experienced, then you can freely express an opinion on the lives of these 13.000 people. Until that time, please don’t.

This child’s drawing expresses the deep fears spreading among refugee children about fires burning down their homes and shelters. Many families are re-living former traumas of violent expulsion from their homes. This is again one of the worst moments of their lives. It is one of the worst moments of my life. I have been working with refugee children since 2005 but this is even worse than at the height of the so-called refugee crisis then. I will never forget this. I can never forget the helplessness and hopelessness of so many thousands of people. I feel powerless. We do what we can but it is never enough.

Eirini Spirelli works for an NGO offering educational and psycho-social support to refugee children on Lesvos.