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Yearning for ‘peace,’ when a Greek refugee camp has become hell

Five years into Europe's migration crisis, the conditions in the notorious Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos are hellish. Refugee children are especially vulnerable, facing hunger, bad sanitation and the threat of violence. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports that angry local residents are demanding a solution.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When refugees and migrants from countries in crisis come ashore on the Greek island of Lesbos, their suffering is far from over, as they face hunger and the threat of violence in the notorious Moria camp.

    Meanwhile, angry Lesbos residents are demanding a solution.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has this week's second Desperate Journey report from the island.

  • Man:

    Stop the boat! Hey, hey, stop it! Stop the boat!

  • Man:

    Stop the boat!

  • Man:

    Stop!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands at night is a nerve-wracking experience, especially for the young ones on the dinghy.

  • Man:

    Stop the boat! No, no, stop it!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Officers from the European border force Frontex are yelling orders because they don't want the boat to capsize.

    The children get another scare, as they are transferred to the police vessel. Then they enter the darkness that is Moria, and a new kind of fear begins.

  • Sakine Moradi:

    Actually, in the night here is sort of scary, and don't have security always. At night, there's fights with knives. They fight with knife. And it's so scary. I cannot go anywhere at night.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Sakine Moradi is 13 years old. Her family fled Afghanistan because of threats from the Taliban. They arrived in Lesbos five months ago.

    Along with other Afghans, they have set up a small bakery inside Moria, where they sell traditional flatbread for 50 cents apiece.

  • Sakine Moradi:

    I think that here is horrible. Here is so bad. We cannot go bathroom. We don't have electric. So, we don't have — cook anything, because the food here is so bad.

    And we don't have water. Sometimes, water come and sometimes it go. And we cannot take shower, actually, yes.

  • Annie Chapman:

    The fact that these humans, our fellow humans, are still living like this, in absolute desperation, five years in is just shocking.

    I felt ashamed, personally, working there and being there. I felt ashamed of having to send people back to those conditions after I'd seen them in the clinic.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Annie Chapman is a British emergency room doctor who volunteers with a Dutch nonprofit. She's just returned home after a stint working night shifts inside Moria.

  • Annie Chapman:

    Forty-two percent of the camp now is made up of children. Children are coming over, with some preexisting conditions, but also battling the fact that they're living in tents.

    There's a new outbreak of meningococcal meningitis in the camp at the moment. And there's an increase in violence in the camp, largely, to my mind, due to the inhumane living conditions and the desperation people are feeling.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is what she means. A man holds up an official document saying that he's being housed, but this is his shelter, a plastic tarp.

    Moria just has to be the worst place in Europe right now. The message that these conditions are sending to people in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa is that you are not welcome here.

    But nothing seems to deter them. They keep on coming, driven by the dream that, sooner or later, Europe is going to be forced to open its borders.

    During the night in Moria, women are especially vulnerable. The threat of sexual violence is so severe that, rather than venture out, many wear a brand of diaper called Pampers.

    Leading Afghan refugee advocate Yonous Muhammadi.

  • Yonous Muhammadi:

    The women, they are wearing these Pampers, which are for children, because there is no access to toilet. And, also, there is no security. So they are wearing this, because there is no toilet. So, the women, they are doing that.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There is a constant stream of mothers taking their children to clinics run by nonprofits.

  • Mie Terkelsen:

    It's only getting in the wrong direction. Every day, it's getting worse. Every day, more patients come asking for help, every day, children with more signs of traumas, and worse and worse.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Mie Terkelsen is a senior nurse with Doctors Without Borders.

  • Mie Terkelsen:

    Danielle to me. Danielle, can I get an update on your numbers?

    It's skin diseases. It's scabies. It's lice. It's diarrhea, vomiting. It's these problems that come from the living conditions mainly. You don't talk about if a child is traumatized. You talk about how traumatized the child is. That's where we are at the moment.

    It's — and it's every day. We cannot follow with the amount of scabies patients, with the amount of lice shampoo. All of these things are just basic things, but it's just overwhelming to us.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The resilience of children is on display, as they play marbles.

    But psychologists are worried about their exposure to adult violence in Moria. They see signs of increased aggression among children in the camp.

    But 17-year-old Qudra Ullah Shafaye from Afghanistan is determined to make a difference. He arrived here five months ago, and is now teaching English in a rudimentary school in Moria called Wave of Hope.

  • Qudra Ullah Shafaye:

    I want to live in a safe country, in a place where I can study.

    I know the situation of Moria is very bad again. Eighty percent not agree that I should be here in Moria, because there are many things that is going on, like killing each other and the bad situation which we are living.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    He believes that education offers the best long-term chance of escape from Moria's squalor.

  • Qudra Ullah Shafaye:

    If I know 60 percent or 70 percent English, I must teach them, that they should learn something. This is a positive work.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Other migrants busy themselves gathering wood for building. Farmers complain their olive trees are being chopped down, but there is no room for new arrivals inside the official camp, and they are forced to construct shelters where they can.

    The migrant crisis has confounded Greece for the past five years. And at a protest in Athens, Vangelis Grammatikakis, from the island of Crete criticized the lack of action.

  • Vangelis Grammatikakis (through translator):

    When the Aegean is bleeding, I bleed, too. That's how a citizen should think. The migration issue can be solved in 24 hours, but they don't want to solve it. It's not that it can't be solved. They don't want to solve it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    There's stalemate over government plans to close Moria and similar camps on other islands, and replace them with better facilities.

    Moria and its overspill contains 20,000 people. That's two-thirds the population of Lesbos' main town, Mytilini. The scale alarms Georgios Stantzos, mayor of Samos, a nearby island.

  • Georgios Stantzos (through translator):

    The new camp on Samos is already big. Its capacity is for 1, 200 people.

    We acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and have accepted it, as long as the refugees and migrants stay for a limited period of time and as long as the migration flows stop. Even if we accept camps of 20,000 people, if the flows do not stop, these camps will easily end up hosting 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people in the whole of the Aegean.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But refugee leader Yonous Muhammadi says Greece needs a reality check.

  • Yonous Muhammadi:

    Greece also should accept that migration came here to stay. It is not a passage country. It is also a destination country.

    Some thousands of people will stay here. It means that integration is the only way. It means that every Greek, that they should have, they will have migrants beside them, at their neighborhood. They have to find a way how to live with these people.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Back in Moria, Sakine Moradi clings to the hope that her stay in the darkness will soon end, and she can find sanctuary in another country.

  • Sakine Moradi:

    Everywhere that I have a good future, that we be together with my family, then I want to go anywhere. I don't have any scared.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    You don't want to be scared?

  • Sakine Moradi:

    I need — we need — we need peace.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    And, say psychologists, that is what all the children need, if their mental scars are to have a chance to heal. Peace is the best antidote to the violence they have witnessed.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Moria.

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