Two migrants scaling a fence during clashes at Moria in September 2019 | Photo: Reuters
Two migrants scaling a fence during clashes at Moria in September 2019 | Photo: Reuters

The situation in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on Lesbos is getting worse by the day. Minors are particularly vulnerable. InfoMigrants spoke with teenagers who said they had no other option left than to sell their bodies for money.

It is 10:00 pm and looks already dark outside when my colleague and I meet a group of teenagers sitting around at a roadside park close to Mytilene’s harbor. The youngsters tell us they are from Afghanistan and that they live at the island's overcrowded Moria migrant camp.

At first, they seem hesitant to talk to us. They don’t want to share too many details about their lives and their experiences in Lesbos with reporters. But slowly, they start to open up. They agree to speak with us only on the condition of anonymity.  

Ahmad (not his real name) is one of the hundreds of unaccompanied Afghans who are stuck in Greece. He's 17 years old and has lived in Athens and Mytilene, the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos, since 2017.

Mytilene harbor Lesbos Greece  Photo Amanullah Jawad

Ahmad says that during this time in Greece, he has encountered many instances of violence and abuse. He details that his problems began when he was tricked by a group of drug traffickers when he was in Athens. They gave him a package and wanted him to bring it to Lesbos. They promised him money for the transfer. But police caught him on the way and he was put in jail.

"I did not know what was inside the package. They told me I would get an amount of money by transferring the package to Lesbos. When the police caught me I realized that hashish was inside the package," Ahmad admits.

Ahmad says he has witnessed many scenes of sexual assault and violence at the Moria camp. "I myself was assaulted many times. A group of men tried to rape me several times but I fended them off and I ran away."

The Moria camp is divided up into different sections. Usually, underage migrants, children and families are assigned to Section A, B or C, where they are meant to be safe. Ahmad however, says he did not get a spot in either of those sections without giving any reasons for this. "I have to stay with other refugees who are older than me," he says.

Ahmad says he was an athlete in Afghanistan; he believes that his strong physique might be what saves him from danger at the camp.

These days, Ahmad earns money by reselling bus tickets in the center of Mytilene. He buys tickets for 80 cents each and sells them for one euro. He walks about 16 kilometers from Moria Camp to Mytilene per day to do this.Tents around Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece | Photo: Amanullah JawadWarning signs

Violence, prostitution, homelessness – the crisis situation that many underage migrants are facing in the Greek hotspots did not just suddenly arrive without warning signs. In a report published in April 2017, Harvard University researchers warned of an "Emergency within an emergency", where migrant children would suffer from physical, psychological and sexual violence in Greece's migrant camps and facilities.

The report focused, in particular, on the many factors contributing to the commercial sexual exploitation of migrant children, and the effects on the victims of this kind of abuse. One of the report's aims was to prompt lawmakers to address this "emergency within an emergency" with better policy decisions. Almost two years later, little has changed; Greece is now struggling to cope with a new surge in migrant arrivals and a rising proportion of unaccompanied minors.

Refugees in a tent camp in Ideomeni, Greece | Photo: Diego Cupolo/DWProstitution is sometimes the only option left

Ahmad is not the only one who has witnessed sexual abuse. Some of his friends concede they have experienced similar situations at the camp.

"Some people who are living at section A, B and C of Moria Camp are selling their body to get some money. When you have no money to buy something to eat, what would you do? Prostitution is the only option. There is no other way to earn money," one of Ahmad's friends said.

Ahmad then turns to us and conveys that two of his close friends were selling their bodies to get some money. He adds that even though one of them behaves normally when he is around them, his mood changes immediately when he sees adult migrants. "He does not want to face them or us when he sees them."

The following day, we meet a 16-year-old Afghan near the entrance of Moria camp. He approaches us, asking for information on how to get away from the island. When we ask him why he wants to leave, he says that "minors are in a miserable situation here and adult asylum seekers misuse the minors.

"They ]adults[ have knives. If you don't do what they want, they'll threaten to kill you."

Moria, located in a former military base, opened in 2015 as a center to register new arrivals but is now filled up at four times its capacity. The camp has spilled over into a muddy, garbage-strewn olive grove nearby, and authorities are feeling overwhelmed with the current situation.

In Moria, several people usually share flimsy tents packed next to one another. Women have told humanitarian organizations that they feel unsafe at night, and sanitary conditions have been described by aid groups "horrendous," with over 100 people sharing just one toilet.

More than 10,000 people, mostly Afghan and Syrian families, crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece in September 2019 alone, according to UNHCR. This marks the highest monthly level of crossings to Greece in over three years.

Amanullah Jawad, Lesbos, with material from Reuters


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