*Content Warning: Please note that this text includes mentions of torture and rape, which may be distressing for some readers.
It is the end of a long day in the Kitrinos clinic, and I am tired. A family bring a two year old to the clinic who is unwell and breathing fast; the other seven children are also sick with runny noses, fevers and diarrhoea. Their father suffers from headaches. He was badly beaten by the Taliban whilst working for the US Embassy in Afghanistan.
The family arrived two days ago and are now living in an unheated tent with no electricity, and they must sleep on boards. They travelled for two months with eight children, aged between 10 months and 14 years, from Afghanistan to Turkey, and then to Lesvos via an open boat.
Though it is only 5°c, two of the girls are wearing flip flops. Their shoes are still soaked through from their arrival as the boat took on water. They have no money; they'll get 90 euros in a month’s time. The 10 month old is drinking breast milk as the family can't afford weaning food.
Camp breakfast is a croissant, lunch is slop, dinner a sandwich. The food queue for 6pm supper starts at 3pm.
Abdul, my next patient, lost his family in a bomb blast. He is depressed, he can't sleep, he is agitated, he has been here 6 months and will probably soon be deported. He has run out of the sedatives that he bought from a private doctor in town. He paid 55 of the 60 euros he gets a month on sedatives and has no money left to buy food. He is getting thin, as he is too agoraphobic to stand in the long queue for food.
Only psychiatrists can prescribe sedatives and antidepressants but the psychiatric services in the camp are overwhelmed and no longer accept referrals. Abdul looks at the floor when he is with me. He has visited some stress relief classes but has found that they are too crowded and can only stay for a few minutes.
The father of eight returned two days later with his wife who has diabetes, thanked me and told me his two year old was well and that they had got new shoes for the girls with flip flops. I felt he was a good and generous man.
My wife, Liz, is volunteering with me in Camp Moria. While the atmosphere here is tense, she brings gentleness. Liz’s presence is wonderful and her patience is a lesson to me as I try to guide my patients to a calmer emotional place. We are staying in a rented house which has been decorated by a Hungarian artist who, to judge by her pictures, is an aficionado of Kahlo. We are conquering the stove and it stays alight most of the time without smoking. There are two bedrooms; the one we don’t use is next to the house of a cheerful, friendly and very deaf old Greek man whose body clock is upside down: he wakes in the afternoon and plays loud music all night.
Nearby, new people arrive by open boats on the island, cold, wet and muddy. They are the 'lucky' ones: others have fled their homes, climbed into overcrowded boats with their children and perhaps a few possessions, but never arrived.
My Final Day in Moria
Before I came here, I read these words in the paper: 'Victims of torture and rape are trapped for years in the camp.' The paper says it is 'very unfair'. Today is my final day in the Kitrinos clinic and my heart is heavy as I consider the nastiest things that people can do to one another. Yesterday, I met three victims of torture, one a man from Togo who I treated for the sexual diseases that had been transmitted to him. I will not tell you what happened to him, but now I understand why the papers don't delve into the details of the horrific suffering of victims of war.
I offered to refer the man for psychological support, but the wait is 9 months. I told him about a place where he could go to find some softness and kindness: a 40 minutes' walk away is One Happy Family Community Centre, where he can sit in a chair with a cushion, use a computer and get something nutritious to eat. There is no barbed wire there.
Tonight we will return home with relief and consciousness of our good fortune, not forgetting the trials that the residents of Moria will continue to face after we leave. These refugees are simply people who have suffered great misfortune. They escape their war-torn homes to then find themselves trapped in what I can only describe as a prison, while the European Governments do little to ease their suffering or bring them to safety.
- Dr Richard, January 2019.