by Melaniu Liu, Action for Education
Earlier this year, as the threat of Covid-19 grew, we were forced to close our Youth Centre, Learning Space, and we had to halt the work within our new project on Chios.
As stress levels rose rapidly around the world, people were doing all that they could to protect themselves and their loved ones. People were flying home to their safe space, fighting over toilet roll, and frantically searching for hand sanitisers and face masks. Nearly every other news article was about being in lockdown, how many times you should be washing your hands, and what song you could be singing whilst doing this (Happy Birthday was a rather popular choice).
"As government guidelines highlighted the importance of washing hands and keeping at least a 2-metre distance from others, it all felt incredibly ironic."
Much of our team in Greece is made up of international volunteers. As we struggled with our own decisions regarding whether we should return home, I was also clouded with hopelessness. I was constantly thinking about our youth centre participants and our school students, and how they, along with 6000 other people on this island didn’t even have a choice. I found it difficult, and at times incomprehensible, knowing that I had the option to go home, quarantine in a house with my family, and to wait out the virus somewhere safe, whilst the refugees and asylum seekers had nowhere to go.
The conditions in the camp are abysmal. As government guidelines highlighted the importance of washing hands and keeping at least a 2-metre distance from others, it all felt incredibly ironic. How can they distance themselves from others, when so many people are living in a space built for just 1000? How can you wash your hands when there is a lack of access to running water? How can you socially distance yourself when there isn’t even enough space for all of you to be there in the first place?
Everyone in the camp is extremely vulnerable, but I found myself thinking a lot about the women and the minors in the camp. We hear stories from our participants, and we know that the cold showers in the camp are mostly inaccessible for women and there are no sanitary items. With the minors, I think about the support network that I had at their age, and how on top of living in the shocking conditions of the camp, some have had to deal with the fear of the virus alone. Not to be able to offer our services to them during this time, to all of our participants, is heart-breaking to even think about.
We often saw our participants and students out in the town, and they would ask, “Why is the Youth Centre closed?”, “Why is the School closed?”, “When will you be open?”. All we could say was that we were closed because of Covid-19, and we weren’t sure when we would be able to open. One of the most frustrating things that I would see in the city was the police stopping refugees and asylum seekers to give them fines, but locals who were also breaking government restrictions seemed immune to such sanctions. Prejudice and systematic racism are palpably felt here.
"There appears to be a lack of justifiable reasons to keep the camp under lockdown."
As further lockdown measures and restrictions were lifted across Greece, the same measures were not lifted off the camp. The lockdown was continuously extended, and it is currently still in place. I struggle to understand these restrictions here on Chios as there were a maximum number of two confirmed cases outside of the camp, and all those within the camp have been here since before Covid-19. There appears to be a lack of justifiable reasons to keep the camp under lockdown. It is hard to not feel constantly aggravated and exasperated by the unfair treatment that the refugees and asylum seekers face on a daily basis.
Recently, we have thankfully been able to re-open our Learning Space, and I was extremely excited to be able to return to school. However, the first day was rough: hearing the stories of their experiences were hard. Some had not left the camp for three months, and you could see the effect it had on them all over their faces. I am so grateful that we have been able to open the school again; it gives our students a bit of time away from the harsh realities of the camp.
"The first day was rough: hearing the stories of their experiences were hard."
As the lockdown measures lifted, we were also able to revamp our youth centre, and to continue the work within our new project. Our team have worked so hard and now finishing touches are being put in place. I am very excited to see our participants in all of our spaces again, and to be able to continue to provide both old and new students with a much-needed service.