When 16-year-old Parwana Amiri arrived in Greece from Afghanistan in September, 2019, she and her family spent several months living in the notorious Moria migrant camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Parwana was shocked by the "inhuman" conditions in which people were forced to live and soon started to write "letters to the world" about what she witnessed. A collection of the letters have been published on the internet and are due to appear in a book later this year.
When Parwana arrived in the Moria camp on September 19 last year, she was shocked at the inhuman conditions in which people were forced to live. The camp, built to house a maximum of 3,000 people, was home to more than 10,000. Rubbish covered the ground, and the camp’s inhabitants had to line up for absolutely everything: for food, for a shower, for a doctor’s appointment, for information.
Parwana witnessed how journalists would often be herded around the camp, but according to her, none of them were able to grasp the full extent of what it is like to live in the camp on a daily basis. Appalled at the situation, Parwana penned her first "Letter to the World from Moria" just two weeks after her arrival.
"A lot of the people who come to Moria can see that there are a lot of things that aren't working here, but some problems are kept hidden, like the violence. I wanted to write about those hidden problems. I believe in the power of the word and I know that my articles are a way for me to give refugees a voice," she tells InfoMigrants.
'We risk our lives to survive'
At first, Parwana wrote her letters in Persian, but she soon realized that her texts would reach more people if she wrote in English. Infomobile, an informative website for refugees and migrants operated by the NGO Welcome to Europe, then offered to translate her texts and publish them on their platform.
In her second letter, Parwana writes about the difficult decision of having to leave your country because of the deadly dangers of staying. "When you are forced to leave and choose to come this way, you are risking your life in the hope of survival. Even after considering all the dangers and the possibility of death, still this is the better choice among many bad alternatives."
While some of Parwana's texts are very personal, others are more journalistic in nature, and include testimonies from other migrants. She's written about the woman who built a tandoor (traditional bread baking oven) to make money to care for her sick husband, about the uncomfortable and unwelcome stares from the camp's men, the children who have been deprived of schooling, and the fatigue of always having to prove that you are in need of humanitarian protection. She also writes about the camp's violence.
"If you live under conditions not even fit for animals, violent conditions, then you can become violent any time yourself; even if you share the same pain," she writes in letter No. 10. "I feel powerless against this violence. I feel it crawling in our veins. I don’t want to become a part of this. I feel shame, when I see anger growing between people who suffer the same pain and shame when I feel anger rising inside me," she writes.
A book in 2020
Parwana, who was born and brought up in Herat, in western Afghanistan, started writing when she was 13 years old. She would write children's stories and short poems. "In Afghanistan, it's almost forbidden for women to write about what they are afraid of and what they want," she says.
Today, Parwana and her family live in the Ritsona migrant camp, north of Athens. Parwana says she wants to continue to write about her daily life in the new camp. She also hopes to inspire other migrants to write about their experiences.
Later this year, a collection of her letters will be published in a book. For Parwana, the book is a way "to show that neither mountains nor borders are reasons enough to give up."