After the fire in Moria, the Papierlose Zeitung has got first hand information from Zekria Farzad, who also represents ‘Education for all’. The journalist founded a school in the refugee camp. An interview
Zekria Farzad is a 41 year old journalist from Afghanistan. Together with his family, his wife and his five children, he had to leave Afghanistan and made it to the borders of the European fortress. They crossed the Aegean sea in an inflatable boat on a cold and dark night in February 2019, and were sent to be registered as refugees in Moria camp.
Zekria soon realized that something truly important was missing there, besides the minimal necessities for staying alive: there was no school, no facility for education of any kind. He took the initiative and started classes with the little means he had. Soon, other refugee volunteers began to support him and the school. And in May 2019 they founded ‘Wave of Hope for the Future’, an ‘Institution from the Refugees to the Refugees’. After more than one year, Zerkia and his family made it to Athens. ‘Wave of Hope’ had developed in the meantime, new schools and other activities (like music and arts) had been established, also in other refugee camps.
This summer Zekria Farzad continued his journey towards a safer destination and managed to come to Switzerland. He is currently living separated from his family (who are still in Athens) in the Lake Geneva region and received a permit with status F. (Provisionally admitted foreigners)
Paul Leuzinger(PL): Zekria, what is the current situation alike in Moria?
Zekria Farzad (ZF): Unfortunately the situation is terrible, especially after the big fire that destroyed all the camp. More than 13‘000 people were for more than nine days on the street and different places around the camp. Now they are in a new camp I call ‚Moria II‘, because it’s worse than ,Moria I‘. This camp in Kara Tepe was made in a few days, it is not a complete camp, it is a temporary camp. They just put tents without pallets at the bottom of each tent, the tents are not a good shelter for the people. The weather is going to be cold. Unfortunately there are many problems, they still have food problems and the people are waiting up to three hours to receive a piece of food. As well as that, there are many many mentally traumatic cases after the fire. It has brought lots of impact on their mental health problems. And we have a lack of doctors, a lack of food, the lack of sanitary toilets, lack of … anything that you think is necessary. This is not a life for humans, this is a life for animals.
PL: So at the moment the work of ‚Wave of Hope‘ in Lesbos is in danger …
ZF: Fortunately, I started it as an initiative by refugees for refugees in March 2019 ... but now, after the fire, we asserted our initiative as a registered NGO in Italy. We have now our own bank account, we have our own license for activities, the donations we get are not longer informal and individual. This has a good impact on our work and the refugees and I as the founder am happy with it. We are now in collaboration and negotiations with some NGOs there, like ‚One Happy Family‘. And we are going to restart our activities again outside the camp, because inside the camp there is no permission for NGOs to be active there. We definitely have some initiatives by refugees there that we are going to support; we will have some classes and some activities and distributions inside the camp. Officially from outside we are trying to support the initiatives of the people inside the camp. Last week we received the message of the new camp authorities, that we – now as a registered NGO – our activities and initiatives are not allowed in the camp.
PL: This goes for all the NGOs or just for ‚Wave of Hope‘?
ZF: This goes for all the NGOs. Just two big NGOs, one is ‚Movement on the Ground‘ from the Netherlands and one is ‚Refugees for Refugees‘, they are doing shelter activities to make housing for the people, just these two are - according to what the manager of the camp told our friends and colleagues – allowed to work there, because they still need them for shelter. Afterwards the government will take all the responsibility, and this is not good news, because the government makes this refugee camp as a prison and it is not good news for the people who live there. Their rules will become much stricter for the refugees and this can only lead to bad conditions for them.
PL: I understand that you are going to reorganize the activities of ‚Wave of Hope‘ in Lesbos. But there are other places your organization is active …
ZF: Yes, fortunately ‚Wave of Hope‘ - like a wave – it goes all around .... Especially we have schools in Nea Kavala, Kavala, Malakasa, Saloniki, Chios Island and Moria. And now we have six schools, all inside the refugee camps. And we have more than 4‘000 students. We have collaborations with lots of individual friends from different countries around the world. As well we have 10 international volunteers helping us with our activities in Greece. And we started our activities in Afghanistan, we are continuing to build a school – more than 50% of the building is already constructed – in the Kabul province, but in a rural area. That school had been burned down by the Taliban.
PL: You are from Afghanistan. Your friends, who have started to work with you and support you on this project, are they Afghanis themselves?
ZF: Good question. Not only Afghans, but mostly, because as you know, 75 % of the population of Moria refugee camp were Afghans. We had classes for different nations and we had teachers of different nations. Like we have teachers for French-speaking people from African countries, we had teachers for Somalian people, we had teachers for Arabic-speaking people, we had teachers for Farsi-speaking people and we had teachers for English-speaking people. And also we had teachers for Greek for all of them. All our colleagues are from different countries around the world. It's like the different colors of flowers and I‘m so happy and pleased that we have all these activities and we have different nations together. But unfortunately the fire brought us lots of difficulties, especially that we lost more than 130 paintings. Each painting had a value of 100 Euro, because all our teachers and painters, our artists, they created different things. And we had a contract with Caritas of Germany; they wanted to buy all these next week, but unfortunately we lost all of them. The artists are our students. We provide all the material for them and after having sold their art works, 50% of the money goes directly to the pocket of the artists, our students, and the other 50% goes to the school and on the expenses.
PL: You spent quite a time in Moria yourself. When and how long did you stay there?
ZF: Well I arrived on February 13th 2019 in Lesbos and for more than one year I was in Moria refugee camp. But I‘m so lucky and I‘m so happy that at least I did something for those innocent people there. I did something completely different, that the world knows about and ...
PL: Did you do this spontaneously and at an early stage of your stay there? Or did you rather analyse what would be helpful for you personally and for the other refugees?
ZF: After 13 days – I was in shock actually, because we experienced a very bad time on our journey – after 13 days I started my work. I bought a white board with some markers and I started my work under an olive tree. I brought my own children and my neighbour’s children. Fortunately the people, the community, encouraged me to do more for them. They came with their children and wanted to join my school. And after that I asked the people to please give me their tents for two hours, because we didn’t have classrooms. And after a few days I had more than seven classes around the camp, inside and outside the camp ... And fortunately …
PL: Is it possible to leave and to enter the camp at any time you want?
ZF: Yes, at that time, you were free to go and come back.
PL: Can you tell us something about everyday life as a refugee in the Moria camp? About refugees’ concerns, their problems, their principal needs …
ZF: The people mostly left their countries because of different problems and conflicts. They often have mental health problems due to their situation. When they arrive at Moria camp and when they read about European countries, about humanity in European countries, they know that European people are hoping for a good future, they feel and learn to know something different about European countries. But unfortunately when they arrive in Europe, especially in Moria refugee camp or other islands in Greece, they find something different, completely different. That it’s worse than their own countries, it’s worse than their own different conflicts and problems, suicide attacks in their countries. Especially as a resident in Moria for more than one year, the life was not for humans. It was completely a life for animals. We built our shelters by ourselves, we bought wood and some other stuff. These were not any standard shelters that could really protect us from the rain, from the snow, from the storm and the Morian weather … but we didn’t have any other choice.
PL: In a situation like that, you started with the school classes as an initiative by a refugee for other refugees. Do you know about other spontaneous self help projects initiated by refugees?
ZF: Unfortunately no. The people who come to Moria refugee camp or other camps in the islands think that they will soon leave there. They think, that they will jump to other European countries from there. They hope, that in two or three months they’ll be leaving, so it’s not worth getting organized and settled. They don‘t want to do something. But as an educated person and as a human, I said to myself that if I’m here for two months, I will do something for these people. I don’t want to waste my time and the other’s time. I'll do something and I started. But I didn’t think either that I would live there more than one year (and there are people there who have stayed for more than three years).
PL: What is it like in a camp, where people of different cultures and nations are living together? Does this create many problems?
ZF: Unfortunately yes. You could read it in the newspaper: every week we head one dead person in the Moria refugee camp. Because of different conflicts, different cultures, different ways of life and all this creates problems ...
I was working 18 hours in 24 hours. Early in the morning I woke up and I went to our school at 6 o’clock. At 7 o’clock our school started, I had to manage everything and to prepare many classes and after that I worked at the school until 9 o’clock. And after 9 I worked as a volunteer as an interpreter in one of the medical centers, organized by BRF (Boat Refugee Foundation). I was in the clinic with the doctors and nurses and we saw lots of people that fought with each other, injured people, casualties came to us. During one week we had one to two dead persons and more than 20 injured people came to our clinic. Because BRF was working on the night shift. And mostly all the conflicts and fights between refugees were during the nighttime. And when I was on the shift, I often thought to myself, what’s going on here ...
PL: As a result of the tensions and the terrible situation in the camp?
ZF: Exactly. One is, that the situation was not good. The second was because of the government. They didn’t put much police there to make the camp secure; and mostly they made lots of strict rules. Some people received two rejections and they thought, today they are going to deport me and tomorrow they are going to deport me and they didn’t know what he or she could do for their own life, because they didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan, Syria or other countries. They came here to find a way for a good future for themselves and for their children. And this is a big mental issue in the camps, that people are involved with.
PL: Thank you for this interview, Zekria, for all the additional information you gave us. Is there anything that you would like to add or to emphasize?
ZF: As you know I founded ‘Wave of Hope for the Future’. It started in Moria refugee camp. Now we have more than six schools in Greece and one school in Afghanistan. We have an office in Afghanistan and we are trying to open our new office in Athens. I’m trying to find friends here in Switzerland to have an association as well with all the people who want to help me.
As a refugee I am telling something for the world. There are people in Switzerland and everywhere that are thinking about humanity. They want to do something to change the world in good manners. I want to tell them, that there are 13’000 people in Moria and more than 24’000 people on other Greek islands living under very bad conditions of life. And my message is, that please act as soon as possible. Among these people in Greece there are many kind hearts, there are many good people, they can change the world. They can do something good for the European countries. They are the facilities, they bring many good impacts and they shape the future of Europe. As a refugee I think that most of the European countries lost lots of their people because of the corona virus. They need new and energetically fuelled people. In a good system they can change their economic problems, they can make a difference for their countries. And I hope that they will bring lots of changes in Moria as soon as possible, because after the fire there are many difficulties for the people. And I heard that Germany is relocating some 1500 people now, but that’s nothing. I wish that Switzerland and other countries would also do something for these innocent people that are living in a very terrible and horrible situation. And for myself, yes I’m longing for permission to have my family here, all of us united again in Switzerland. Thank you very much.
(September 29th 2020)