As Autumn begins, ECHO’s welcomed some cooler weather; no more two hour drives in 38 degree heat. We’ve also had a slower timetable – we began September running full sessions at ten out of our eleven usual locations. We’re ending the month in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus: two of the camps we usually visit are in lockdown, and we’re scaling back our children’s programme with Play Up. We’ve continued building the new library van slowly – the floor is now in and the first bench. We’ve also watched from Athens as Moria camp burned to the ground, and the EU wrote a new migration pact that further entrenches the conditions that led to the fire.
On the Moria camp fire
On 8th of September, Moria camp on Lesvos burned to the ground. It had been through six months of COVID quarantine – despite having no cases within the camp, which amounts to illegal arbitrary detention. Sanitation facilities in the camp were not improved, and people still had to queue in close conditions for several hours to access food, water and toilets. Protests had amounted to nothing. When coronavirus did finally enter the camp, some people felt that riots and fires were the only option they had left.
The conditions in Moria are a more intense version of the same policy of containment and deterrence that we see in the mainland camps that we visits. The camps are built in isolated locations without proper facilities for washing, cooking and cleaning. Overcrowding makes social distancing impossible. And throughout the pandemic, the government has responded to suspected corona outbreaks within the camps by locking residents in, regardless of their access to essentials like food. The effect has been disastrous; one Malakasa camp resident told one of our librarians that through the last ‘quarantine’ period he couldn’t focus on reading because he was too hungry and afraid.
ECHO is, all-in-all, a refugee camp library. Whilst we run popular city centres around Athens on a Wednesday, the library spends the rest of the week where displaced people are holed up without access to education, communal space and literature: the camps. But this does not mean that we condone the camp system. Covid-19 has only made more stark the violence that the camp system does to people who live in it. There are better ways to house human beings. The view from our library is the same as it has ever been: the camps must be abolished.
By Keira Dignan