A PLACE OF SOLIDARITY AND DIGNIFIED LIVING AT RISK OF CLOSURE: #SAVEPIKPA

On 29 June, the Regional Governor of North Aegean announced a decision ordering the closure of PIKPA camp – a volunteer and refugee run informal shelter – citing environmental and public health grounds.[1]  PIKPA’s residents are highly vulnerable and include families with babies, victims of torture and persons with disabilities. The camp’s operations are supported by the NGOs Lesvos Solidarity, other organizations and volunteer groups.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) has provided legal and psychosocial assistance to many of the camps residents throughout the years and is concerned about the impact that the camp’s closure will have upon the lives of vulnerable refugees. We urge the Regional authorities to take steps in order to avoid the closure of this essential space for refugees on the island of Lesvos.

The Regional Governor’s decision followed an inspection by the Regions Hygiene Department at a time that PIKPA was hosting 350 Kurdish refugees who fled the violence in Moria in May and its usual residents. [2] The decision was challenged by Lesvos Solidarity, an NGO supporting the operations of the camp and the minor flaws identified during the inspection have been reportedly fixed.

‘ …. I would like to ask them to have the goodwill not to close PIKPA because this place is the life of some people… We are many here, and for us here is life, HERE IS LIFE’.

Message by David*, male refugee from DRC and resident of PIKPA camp to the Regional Governor of North Aegean

Meanwhile, a huge wave of solidarity has been shown to PIKPA, its volunteers and residents from ordinary people, activists and refugees all over Europe, MEPs and even the Greek Minister for Migration Policy.[3]  In mid-July, a local judge dismissed the interim measures application made by local hotel owners citing that the camp was danger to public health and damaging for the business operations.[4]

The camp has been operating since 2012 and providing a dignified shelter and calm space for around 30,000 refugees during all these years. Its operations started when a group of solidarians and activists called the ‘Village All Together” started an effort to ensure dignified living to refugees arriving on Lesvos. New arrivals at that time were transferred to police stations to identify them and were held for days in substandard conditions. The memories of the notorious Pagani detention centre had been so raw for the activists that they wanted to ensure that refugees would have a dignified shelter.

PIKPA hosts currently around 100 very vulnerable people including families with small babies, persons with disabilities and LGBTI individuals that have been exposed to homophobic violence during their stay in Moria hotspot.  In interviews provided to RSA, they describe the dire conditions they experienced in Moria and how PIKPA has provided them with normalcy in their everyday life and dignified shelter and call the authorities to #SAVEPIKPA.

Mahin*[5], is a female Afghan refugee and she is twenty-four years old. She has been staying in PIKPA camp with her husband and two children for nearly seven and half months. One of her children was born in Greece during the family’s stay in PIKPA. The family stayed in Moria hotspot for two weeks upon their arrival at a time that she was pregnant. Mahin told us:

“…. We arrived in PIKPA in November. In Moria we were not allowed to go out of the (hotspot) and there were drunk people fighting and took away our blankets and (personal things) and fighting and shouting all the time made us feel stressed….. When we came out of Moria we had never seen Mytilene and we saw the place and we were amazed and here in PIKPA we saw that it was calm no shouting, no screaming and then we decided we want to stay here we don’t want to go in Athens…. My baby was born when I came here and it felt safe and my older boy started going to school here in PIKPA and he learns languages. It started being a normal life here and all the people that support us here are giving us time…“.

Mahin fears for her family’s future if PIKPA closes. For them, the camp represents safety, calmness and being taken care of. She says:

“I haven’t stayed in other camps in Mytilene, I just have visited friends who are in Moria and Karatepe and I think PIKPA is the best camp in this island and if it closes I really don’t know what we will do. … We always try to do something for the people that are complaining and try to close PIKPA, our neighbours. For example, when we go for a walk or to the beach we always clean the place….. We try to have good relationship with them”.

David* is a male refugee from DRC and arrived on Lesvos last January. Initially, he stayed in Moria hotspot for nearly two months and he has been staying in PIKPA camp for the past three months.

“…Being sick in Moria, is a chance to die, because it is almost impossible to have access to the clinic, to the point where people give up on even trying. However sick you are, you need to wake up at 4 am to be in the line and wait to be given a little coin that allows you to see the doctor on the same day. If there are too many people already, you don’t get to see one”.

David described to us the difference that he has seen in his life since moving to PIKPA especially regarding improvements in his physical and mental health as he suffers from high blood pressure.

“When I think of PIKPA, I see a place, good, isolated, serious, far away from the prison that is Moria. In PIKPA, I also see love, care, and willingness to look after everyone as individuals…. If we were to close PIKPA, it would add a lot the pain we already suffer. I don’t know if we would be able to live again in Moria. Out there is a world of stress. The worst of places is there, that’s my point of view….”

Here in RSA we join the voices of refugees, NGOs and activists and we say: #SAVEPIKPA

[1] See: https://lesvossolidarity.org/en/news/press-release/reaction-to-announcement-by-the-region-of-north-aegean-to-close-pikpa-camp; https://www.amna.gr/home/article/271878/Mutilini-Kleinei-to-PIKPA-i-perifereiarchis-Chr-Kalogirou.

[2] Source:  https://rsaegean.org/el/anagkaios-o-amesos-apegklovismos-ton-prosfygon-apo-tin-lesvo/.

[3] Source : https://www.news.gr/politikh/article/1209611/iper-tis-domis-filoxenias-sti-lesvo-vitsas-ke-24-evrovouleftes.html; https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/07/save-pikpa-refugee-solidarity-camp-on-lesvos-at-imminent-risk-of-closure/.

[4] Source: http://www.era-aegean.gr/?p=46536.

[5] Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals interviewed.