From Moria's ashes, a UN logbook shows Lesbos camp trauma

Unaccompanied children at the Moria migrant camp on Greece’s Lesbos island had to deal with rats, flooding and the threat of electrocution: all carefully documented by the staff caring for them.

Daily entries written by Greek employees of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also referred to suspicions that some older camp residents were sexually abusing vulnerable minors.

AFP discovered the details in a logbook recovered from the ashes of the camp after it was completely destroyed on September 9, 2020 following a two-day blaze.

The logbook was found in the “safe zone”, an area close to the then facility’s main road, separated by barbed-wire from the rest of the camp.

This was where unaccompanied minors — with a court order requiring they be kept safe — lived, until they could be transferred to the mainland or a European country.

The United Nations’ IOM was responsible for looking after them. By their own account, they were unable to do so adequately.

The IOM declined to comment on the logbook, but its authenticity was confirmed by cross-checking with IOM documents in the public domain, and by checking it with minors who stayed at Moria during the period covered by the logbook entries: November 2018 to May 2019.

At the time, according to the UNHCR — the UN refugee organisation — 406 of Moria’s residents were minors who had crossed unaccompanied by their parents from the Turkish coast to the Aegean island.

– ‘Danger of electrocution’ –

The logs, written in Greek, make frequent reference to the children’s self-inflicted harm, including substance abuse.

Entries also note suspicions that older residents of the camp were sexually abusing unaccompanied girls.

On December 25, 2018, a man approached the entrance of the safe zone and accused a girl of stealing money from him.

He said he had given her money, the care worker notes, “in exchange for things that can’t be described”.

On November 18, 2018, the duty care worker writes: “Inside the box with the mandarin oranges we found a dead rat,” noting a serious problem with rats and the danger of disease they posed to both residents and staff.

The same day, rain flooded the guardroom and one of the containers where the children lived.

“Serious danger of electrocution,” notes the care worker.

A few days later, November 22, 2018, rain again flooded some of the containers.

The care worker on duty suggests the children in one of those affected should move to other containers until the weather gets better.

“Danger of electrocution,” he writes, underlining his warning with the pen.

The log also records frequent power cuts.

– Killed in the ‘safe zone’ –

“All night long, S. and H. stayed with us in IOM’s room,” one care worker writes in the December 1, 2018 entry — a reference to a teenage girl and her baby, whose names have been removed to protect their identities.

“The baby was cold and crying and it must be a little sick.

“The army doctor to whom we brought it said that he does not have expertise on babies and that someone should see it tomorrow.”

Because electricity is down, the workers were unable to keep the baby warm.

Unaccompanied minors are considered the most vulnerable category of persons among those fleeing war or poverty.

After the fire that destroyed Moria, EU countries rushed to take in the unaccompanied minors who until then had been stranded there.

Social workers working today with some of the boys transferred to Hamburg, northern Germany, told AFP that to recover from the trauma of their time in the camp would take months or years — if ever.

Three months after the last entry in the logbook, on August 25, 2019, a 15-year-old boy from Afghanistan was stabbed to death in that same “safe zone”.

The boy, who was on the island with his two brothers, was waiting to be transferred to Austria, where the boys should have been reunited with their parents.

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