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Society

Desperation and Agony in Moria of Lesbos

February 20, 2019

BOSTON – A cry of desperation and agony was expressed through The National Herald by the inhabitants of the village of Moria on the island of Lesbos, who since 2011 are living a daily martyrdom seeing their historic and proud home decay because of the massive “invasion” by thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees who cross over from Turkey.

Nobody seems to care, including the current leftist government under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras or the European Union. They have received high profile visits from notables including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis of Rome, but when the speeches and the public relations photos ceased no practical results were produced.

The residents have formed an association which they named “Epitropi [Committee] of inhabitants of Moria, Panagiouda and Surrounding Communities” aiming to inform Hellenes throughout the world about the drama that has played out in their birthplace and which has reached the point of catastrophe.

The Epitropi is comprised of the following: Athanasios Psounos, president, Panagiotis Deligiannis, Elias Polyhniatis, Panagiotis Hronis, Evanthia Hatziargyriou, Asimakis Pavlellis, Vasiliki Tsagkari, Panagiotis Karipis, Giorgos Koukoulas, Demetrios Zgourellis, and Ignatia Litra. They all are serious individuals, educated family persons who love their place of birth dearly and they spoke to The National Herald in detail about their village and the current situation.

The residents want the world to know – these are their words – that “Moria is a village of 1500 inhabitants at a distance of five kilometers from Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. Within a radius of 2-3 kilometers there are two so-called Reception and Identification Centres, also known as sotspots, hosting over 12,000 migrants and refugees. In the hotspot nearest Moria approximately 10,000 people live with anger and resentment due to the poor conditions. It is like a time bomb, ready to explode and it must be noted that for the establishment of this camp there was no consultation with the local community. It was simply imposed on the citizens. During the four years this situation has continued we have been tolerant and sympathetic to these people and have been trying to help them. We understand that they had to leave their homes and seek a better life in the unknown, but that does not mean that our quality of life must be degraded.”

TNH was told that, “The situation is getting worse day by day and we do not know how and when it will end. The central and local authorities, including the EU, do not seem to care about the impact this migrant phenomenon has on the local community. Nobody has bothered to talk to the local people and listen to their problems. The government’s policy has thrown an absurd burden onto the communities in the islands and the result is there is a serious danger of social upheaval. It is easy to understand how unsafe the local people feel. There is no police protection. Children do not play out in the streets after sundown and women avoid walking alone. Doors are locked and in general our lives have changed.”

Asked to name some of the main problems, they said: “The key problem is the “severe overcrowding of Moria’s hotspot.”

Among the reasons for the overcrowding are the lack of an effective return policy for economic migrants and the slow asylum process, especially at the appeal stage.

The local infrastructure simply cannot support so many people. Water supply, sewers, and the rest of the infrastructure were designed for the limited number of residents of the village and not for a multiple of that number.

Sewage, for example, spills into the surrounding streets, fields, and river, which contaminates the groundwater supply and it is a source of diseases, apart from the unbearable smell.

There is great danger from disease – a possibility of epidemics – and a general threat to the health of the local community and the migrants due to the sewage and the lack of basic healthcare for such a large number of migrants.

Local residents emphasize that the situation must be looked into immediately and that it is the responsibility of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to act. They also note, “The delinquent behaviour of certain migrants, the vandalism, and the frequent destruction of the private property of the village’s inhabitants (houses, trees, crops, poultry, livestock etc.) As a result, there is a continuously rising feeling of insecurity among the locals, further bred by the destruction of the environment and the silent and suspicious expansion of the camp.

“Where we had olive trees for hundreds of years we now see tents. The trees are disappearing with frequent fires in the camp’s surrounding areas and from people cutting them down,” they said.

It was noted that, “The NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) are not properly controlled. They are renting fields, houses, and old factories to accommodate refugees and immigrants, expanding the camp illegally. To do that they offer rental prices much above the market value, taking advantage of people’s needs. Some of them are profit-driven and in fact one NGO was sent to court and found guilty a few months ago.

Unfortunately, the state exercises very limited, if any, control over them and under these circumstances they act illegally by, for example, expanding the camp without obtaining any permits for it from the state. There is complete lack of communication between the authorities and the local community with regard to any action being taken for the elimination or addressing of the problems above, and about what plans they have, if any.”

The residents believe practical action can be taken, however, saying, “The short term need is to simplify the processing of the refugees so that they will not have to stay for so long in the hotspots. Also, to move them into a closed and controlled camp away from inhabited areas. The long term solution to the migrant crisis is to reverse the flow of migrants, allowing them to return to their home countries, for those who want it and who are not refugees, and for the rest to be shared with other countries proportionally. We are a member of the EU but in this crisis the EU seems not to participate in solving the problem and we are left alone as a country and alone as an island and as a village for that matter. Our village, Moria, is experiencing continuous decay and that is obvious from looking at the closed stores and homes. Moria has become a synonym for human misery.”

The inhabitants of Moria are very proud of their village, which has a long history and has been continuously inhabited since ancient times. It has been the most important suburb of the city of Mytilene to the north, throughout the ages. Some of the Archaeological findings through the years include: the archaic pottery found in the place called Achlia, the Hellenistic and Roman cemetery in Mavrovouni, the houses and farms of the Roman era in the fertile plateau of Outza – tomb inscriptions fill the island’s farmland – the Hellenistic inscription of “gnafeon” in Achlia where there were Roman baths, the cemetery of the Byzantine period in Agios Ioannis, and the famous Roman Aqueduct.

There are the marvellous post-Byzantine churches of Agios Dimitrios and the Basilica of Agios Vasilios, smaller churches, “tower houses”, and a 16th century settlement. Today visitors will find coffee shops, barber shops, tailor shops, and bakeries, along with industrial buildings of the 19th and 20th century.

The traditions and festivals still continue, with contemporary cultural associations and the island’s three schools contributing to the preservation of its cultural heritage.

The residents beam when they say, “Moria gave birth to a number of intellectuals that we are proud of, and the books that are currently stored in the village’s municipality building. They are our inheritance. There also many other books of historical, scientific, intellectual value that are kept in the citizen’s houses because there is no organized “live” library where they can be stored and made available for use.”

The residents are dismayed because, they said, “when the media refer to Moria internationally, they cite only the hotspot, perhaps because they do not know about the existence of the village. It is worth noting that the officials and VIPs who visit the hotspot from time to time use the by-pass road, so they do not see the village or if they see it, they may not know that it is inhabited and is culturally productive.”

TNH was also told that, “It is of primary importance to the future of the village and the local community to protect and bring out the cultural heritage and identity of the village, and to restrain the migration of people out of the area – especially the young ones – that we have experienced lately after the migrant bomb exploded in our village. One valuable initiative would be the creation of a “live”, modern library that would be open for all to use.”

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