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Lesvos 2018

Margarita Mavromichalis | Greece

Welcome To Prison. First thing you see as you approach the camp of Moria.

I have been documenting the refugee crisis as it develops on the island of Lesvos since 2014.  My last trip was a month ago and a good year had gone by since I last was on the island.  What led me to return was the urge to see how the situation had evolved since there as been for a long time no word on the news that would even hint that there has ever been a refugee problem. I was in for a big shock and disappointment and this last trip was most probably the most difficult one so far. Numbers have trippled, conditions have worsened and patience is running thin.

 In 2014 I moved back to Greece from NY and that was the year when the refugee crisis started to make the front pages of the newspapers, only to reach its peak in 2015 when the numbers of boats overloaded with refugees and migrants came by the hundreds each day, stacked with young, old, sick and despaired, all looking for a safer haven.  I made my way to Lesvos, as it was the biggest point of entry in Greece, camera in hand not really knowing what to expect. I was emotionally not prepared for what I was about to witness.  There were moments when I was unable to shoot as the events around me where so overwhelming and hard to comprehend.... This was most probably the best schooling I have ever received as I was introduced to all the good and bad of mankind. What I still have a hard time understanding is how we can allow, in 2018, to have people at our doorstep living in such inhumane conditions.  And this makes me so angry and sad. So I photograph with much pain and anger with the hope that the images will be seen and may shed some light on an issue that is not going to be resolved anytime soon.  The UN has declared that over 60 Milion people are on the move and those numbers are alarming.  I will not comment on why these people have decided to leave their homeland and seek refuge somewhere where they will not be wanted, I will not comment on whether they are right or wrong.  What I will comment on is the way our Western world is addressing the problem and that, to me, is the biggest disappointment of all.  I think that most of us have had a relative one time or another in history who was a refugee or a migrant.  History tends to repeat itself but quite conveniently we have a selective memory.  

The refugee Camp of Moria, on Lesvos, has a capacity of 1,000 people and currently is the home of over 8,000 refugees.  As I approached the main entrance of the camp I noticed a writing on the wall :  "Welcome to Prison". Eight thousand people of different race, color, religion are confined and called to share a tiny space.  The only words I could hear over and over again as I walked through the tents was "Moria - no good!!!" and that was an understatement.  I spent a lot of time talking to people and my heart was broken, yet once again.  Most were very appreciative of the attention I was giving them and were happy to tell their story, orthers were happy to vent and complain about their situation and the conditions under which they were living.  Some have been in Moria for over two years.  There was an obvious discrimination between the ethnicities and the tension between the different groups was high. As expected, many were sick and in need of medical attention.  I was shown pictures of the snakes that enter their tents regularly and was introduced to the two hour line ups for each meal of the day.  The children brought a ray of hope and sunshine as their spirit was not yet broken and played with garbage bins and other items that they used as toys.  They teach us many lessons!  I received much undeserved warmth from most people I met and still today receive messages through social media from many of them.

The locals, the authorities and the refugees are doing their best to cope with such a serious situation.  But everyone's patience is running thin.  Numbers keep increasing by the day and some say that this is only the begining.  

I hope that the images you are about to see will touch a cord and sooner rather than later the leaders of our countries will show the interest and respect that every human being deserves on this planet.

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