Cameras are not allowed inside the fences of the Moria refugee camp, located inside a former military prison on the outskirts of the city of Mytilini on the island of Lesbos, Greece. But that hasn't stopped refugees at the camp from sharing photos and videos on WhatsApp via a handful of mobile hotspots that have been set up by those staying inside.
A 25-year-old man from Iraq named Noor and a 27-year-old man from Syria named Ammar both agreed to provide BuzzFeed News with videos from inside the fenced-in perimeter of the prison.
The prison’s original capacity is 2,000, but it's now housing an estimated 7,000 refugees, according to both NGO workers on site and refugees living inside. Refugees are being housed inside what are essentially large shipping containers and in makeshift tents that now line the walkways of the prison. Moria is guarded by both Greek military officers and police.
Three months ago, in protest at the worsening conditions inside of Moria, refugees broke through a hole in the fence and decamped into an olive grove next to the prison. Around 200 people, mostly families hoping to escape escalating violence inside the prison, now live outside in summer tents pitched on wooden planks that have been “winterized” via thin tarps. At night, they break off olive branches and burn them.
Noor said he was a journalist in Iraq and showed BuzzFeed News a video on his phone of him on an Iraqi news station. He sent a dozen photos and videos he had been collecting from inside the prison over the last few months.
“They don’t want you inside. Do you have WhatsApp? I can send you videos,” Noor said.
BuzzFeed News was detained and threatened with arrest while attempting to visit the Moria camp this week. An officer demanded to go through every photo and video taken by BuzzFeed News so they could approve what had been shot.
“It is illegal to photograph anything inside the fence of the camp,” said an officer who refused to give his name. The officer also argued with the military personnel about whether or not photographing the olive grove outside the prison was illegal.
Noor's photos paint a shocking picture of what the conditions inside are like. The walkways of the prison are lined with ad hoc tents, the walls of the camp are covered in garbage, refugees are forced to burn trash at night due to a lack of proper winterization, and the bathrooms and showers don’t appear to have proper drainage.
A 41-year-old teacher from Syria named Abdu-Mohammad took BuzzFeed News to a field at the top of the olive grove that has been turned into an open-air bathroom. “You need to show this,” Abdu-Mohammad said. “The world needs to know this is where we are going the bathroom.”
Noor also sent a series of videos via WhatsApp that show refugees attempting to use small bowls to prevent their tents from flooding during a recent rainstorm. Another video shows a large crowd of men gathered in front of a barbed fence chanting “Moria no good.” And, most shockingly, another video appears to show two Greek police officers forcibly removing a man from a living area while other refugees ask them to stop.
Ammar, the 27-year-old from Syria, told BuzzFeed News that on Thursday night, police broke up a fight inside the prison using tear gas.
“There was a big fight between refugees, I don’t know exactly who. After an hour of fighting, the police came and pushed out some bomb to cover and dissipate the refugees,” he said. “Some refugees were throwing rocks at the police.”
Ammar said this kind of police response to fighting is common. He estimates tear gas has been used on refugees inside Moria at least three or four times in the three months he’s been at the camp.
“When the fighting is very big, the police take the bombs to push them away,” he said. Ammar said that on one evening a few months ago, in response to a huge fight that had broken out, tear gas was used over a dozen times, he estimated.
Ammar sent several videos showing garbage stacked up along the fences and overflowing from dumpsters. In another video, two men are going through a massive pile of discarded water bottles left inside the camp's shower complex.
Several refugees told BuzzFeed News that hoarding empty bottles and refilling them is one of the one ways they can clean themselves.
A 15-year-old girl from Syria named Meervat Ali told BuzzFeed News that access to showers was incredibly difficult. She had only been able to bathe once in four days.
One of the showers that had recently been installed in the olive grove spill-over camp consisted of a covered tent with a ditch dug around it that people were cleaning themselves with bottles of water in.
“Inside there is only cold water,” she said. “The only time you can get to the bathroom is before 5 a.m.”
Mytiliini’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, has condemned the conditions at Moria, calling the camp “the Guantanamo Bay of Europe.” Galinos told BuzzFeed News that his office has no authority over what goes on inside the camp and that everything that happens there is under the control of Greece’s Ministry of Migration.
Many of those at the camp have been stranded on Lesbos since a March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey that hoped to stem the tide of refugees getting to mainland Europe by confining them to Greek islands for the duration of their asylum-seeking process. Greece's Ministry of Migration has pledged to transfer thousands from Moria before the end of the year, but, according to reports, hundreds are still arriving at the camp each day.