Moria Detention Center



—by Leonidas Paliakos | translated from greek by G.K.—

Two years ago, at the detention Center in Moria, Lesvos, we were faced with the logic of “concentration camps” and Auschwitz. We were frightened by the deficient prefab buildings, the high walls and the policemen guarding barred doors. Above all, we were frightened by the barbed wire that separated in an absolute way the empty exterior from its inside. Back then too, it was hard to go in and out – one had to get permission by the police, overcome the unsurpassable bureaucracy, etc. Yet, in practice, sometimes at least, things were quite simple. If someone was in the right mood, if someone got a bit confused, if you got, well, lucky, there was a good chance you’d pass. We used to hear, though, that it was forbidden. Strictly forbidden. Back then, we still lived in the days of “illegal migrants” and purgatories such as Amygdaleza.

Early last summer, to people like us, who used to visit the place few and far between, Moria seemed to change. The confinement had acquired some features of temporariness, and in this sense it was much more bearable for people who could move, people who could leave. The space inside and outside the barbed wire had become less distinct. The exterior had become so densely populated as the interior, the conditions where everywhere unbearable, but it was worse inside. People who entered to get the permit of temporarily free movement had to suffer for a little while a total confinement, not just inside the walls, but also outside the white cells: it was hot as hell, people often didn’t have water, and it was impossible for them to walk around the premises. This was the time of the “hospitalization” centers, open centers, open structures, a general openness. Back then, if you wanted to walk from one building to another, from entrance X to exit Y, you could not avoid stepping on heaps of plastic bottles filled with urine, bottles that made a shivering sound. I have always hated generalizations of the “All this is Auschwitz” type. However, I must admit that, right when I was juggling my way over the small bottles, trying not to crush them, I thought about a room with skulls at the Holocaust Museum in Berlin. If you wanted to cross them, you had to step on them, to hear this equally shivering sound and feel under your feet something human. Months passed by, but those bottles filled with urine are still under my feet.


A few days ago, we saw Moria again, and it had changed, again. Its general outlook, now more than ever, is that of a fortress. All passages are blocked, countless policemen everywhere, the frightening barbed wire still there. Permits are no longer issued by the police, but by the service of first reception, at the Ministry of Citizen Protection. So I was told. And they are hard to get. And you can no longer get in just because you got, well, lucky. I saw one of the doctors there, I had kept her in my mind as a luminous presence. Not any more. She can’t stand it anymore, she says. She is thinking about leaving. She has darkened. Once more, people are permanently confined inside. The are free to get out of the prefab buildings, sure, but not to cross the barbed wire. Younger men, older men, young women, and many children. Queued up to receive clothing and sanitation items, queued up to see the doctors. There are no small bottles on the ground, I didn’t see any, but the tension is high. People understand that they are going to stay confined in buildings, in tents. They have already been confined for weeks, and they don’t understand why. They can’t stand it anymore, they turn against the workers, who can’t stand it either. Moria is closed. We are back in a time of closure, of fortresses, of custody. But we don’t talk about Auschwitz, or Amygdaleza, or “illegal migrants”. Not yet anyway. Language will follow. It steps over the small bottles too. And it shivers.


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