Mytilene, Lesbos – Anis Alizai arrived in Lesbos with her parents and four siblings in December 2018.
After sleeping for seven months in the olive groves around the Moria camp, the main reception center on the Greek island at the time, the Afghan refugee family received a coveted modular housing unit in Kara Tepe, a camp municipal seen as an example of humanity and solidarity. since it was created in 2016.
Anis, now 17, dreams of studying mathematics at the University of Patras, one of the most competitive technical universities in Greece, and is determined to succeed.
“I went to the professional institute during my founding year. They told me he was very good at math and I said I would try high school the following year, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“They said it was a lot harder there and I said, ‘I don’t care.'”
Anis was successful in a Greek institute. He took an exam for Mytilene’s First Experimental High School, the island’s high school that admits only 13 students a year and rigorously prepares them for college entrance exams.
With only one year of Greek schooling, Anis got 80% of the exam and, along with an Iranian refugee, got seats in the class.
If all went well, Anis would take the college entrance exams in the summer of 2022.
But now that future is in the air, because the government abruptly closed Kara Tepe’s camp this month and moved most of its 1,000 residents to a tent city by road called Mavrovouni.
Defense groups have described Kara Tepe as “safe” and have denounced her closure.
One of the ingredients of Anis ’success was her stable environment.
In Kara Tepe, her younger siblings could attend the nursery and language schools offered by the help groups.
The camp itself, a promontory jutting out at the top of the sea, looked more like a community of villages than a refugee camp.
It was closed and families felt safe letting their children run unattended.
Although the Alizais have not yet been granted asylum, they survived on food and medicine provided by the municipality and volunteers.
Mavrovouni is a different story.
“A store that doesn’t have a door that can be closed is not safe,” Anis said.
“It simply came to our notice then [Kara Tepe] in the city’s public schools … in the new camp I don’t know if we will be able to attend school. “
Greece opened its public schools to asylum seekers in September 2016, but not to the islands.
This is because they were considered half-point houses where newcomers would receive international protection or be deported back to Turkey.
The process was to take weeks, but in many cases, such as those in Alizais, it took almost two years.
Anis ’ability to attend high school was an exception, which may not continue once her family relocates to the general refugee population.
Mavrovouni was hastily built over an artillery field after Moria burned down last September, according to fire police.
“It’s not clean, the accommodations aren’t properly waterproofed, they’re not on flat ground,” said Imogen, a volunteer from an aid group working in Mavrovouni. “There are no mattresses. It’s not a suitable place for people to stay.”
Raed Alobeid, leader of the Syrian community, told Al Jazeera: “We are waiting for our fate and we are waiting for how to die.
“It’s better to transfer [people] from this prison to the mainland. It’s like a prison. I’m not saying that. Everyone says that. You are allowed to leave for a maximum of two to three hours and then return “.
“You’re too scared to leave your tent”
Thousands of refugees have been relocated to the mainland this year as the government tried to alleviate overcrowding in an attempt to calm the unrest among refugees and political problems among Greek voters.
Some 7,500 asylum seekers remain in Mavrovouni, less than twice as many as when Moria was burned.
But according to Karolien Janssens, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) doctor, the government has not solved the challenges of the massification.
“Today in our clinic we had a pregnant woman who has moved [from Kara Tepe], which is totally freaking out. She and her family are now in a huge tent full of single men, with their four young children. Therefore, it is totally out of place. It’s totally absurd. “
This morning at 5am, when it was still dark and while it was raining, Greek police moved 50 vulnerable refugees from Kara Tepe 1 to a new tent in the infernal Moria 2.0. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/Ykb5BoJ380
– MSF Sea (@MSF_Sea) April 24, 2021
Janssens says some of MSF’s female patients have reported being raped in the new camp, despite government guarantees that it is safe.
“At night, you feel too scared to leave your tent, certainly if you’re a woman, you can’t go to the bathroom. Stop drinking at two in the afternoon to avoid going to the bathroom. If you have to go, pee in a bottle, ”he said.
For children and young people like Anis and her siblings, there is a significant risk of moving.
“There is a child who was already in treatment for mental health problems and who has had very serious panic attacks, episodes of fainting, symptoms that we had stabilized. They all come back because as a child, even before being transferred, he knew that would come back, ”Janssens said.
Lights of hope
The mayor of Lesbos promised to shut down Kara Tepe when he was elected in 2019 and the government promised to decongest the islands of the eastern Aegean.
Kara Tepe Promontory will likely once again be a driving practice field.
There is some hope for Anis.
She and her family may end up being sent to the mainland instead of Mavrovouni, the hope of most refugees on Lesbos.
“Everyone is angry, they are very upset about the asylum. Some have been waiting for a year, a year and a half, “said Alobeid, the Syrian community leader. “What we need from European countries is to help the people, to help the children here within this camp.”
The European Union has pledged to build 267 million euros to build a new generation of better quality camps on the five islands of the eastern Greek Aegean with refugee reception centers.
And now Greece has accelerated the allocation of new asylum cases to about two months, according to the government.
But none of this addresses the problems of older residents like the Alizais, whose cases have suffered, where appropriate, delays because resources were diverted to new cases.
Anise continues to be hardy.
“I don’t know if we will be allowed to stay in Greece,” he said. “But in math I learned that there is a solution to every problem.”