The faces behind the fences


The Faces Behind The Fences: A note from our Head of Mission, Lonneke Noteboom

I spent the past days in Zervou, Samos. A camp known for its fencing and prison-like look. I am not going to lie, the moment you walk towards the camp, you start getting goosebumps and a strong feeling of, “Is this how we welcome people in Europe?” arises. 

As you approach the camp, the fences and barbed wire fill your vision. But as you cross these initial boundaries, a colourful, beautiful, and without exaggeration a beacon of joy, hope and community amid the grey-ish camp appears. It brings a smile to my face. Children and adults come together and play. Behind the court is a colourful wall, painted by Favella Paintings, enhancing the positive vibe of the court. 

Another smile comes to my face when I see KalosTea. Again, colourful, and bright, filled with residents playing games. Laughing and chatting. A second community area that has a differentiating effect, changing part of this camp into a campUs area for the community. 

During my days in the camp, I was able to experience the strength of the community volunteer team that Kane, Anouk and Herman (our field coordinators) enabled in creating. Amman cooks lunch for the team every day. Incredible food made with love from two, small, self-created pits. Majid and Shapoor manage and operate the KalosTea space. Mahmoud works with the local catering to distribute food twice a day. Ahmad runs the laundry facilities. Osman organises the Samos Football League with mixed teams playing at 16:30 each day. The unaccompanied minors of the camp come out to watch, enjoy and cheer during these games. The Greek security team helps to search for the lost balls.

This, is what we as Movement On The Ground have enabled in a short period of time. It is not the ideal situation we envision, but it is what makes me, as Head of Mission, so committed to continue moving. The road may be bumpy at times, but this warm feeling of community and the commitment of those on Samos working to make a different is what keeps me motivated. For these are the faces behind the fences. 

A few last words on these fences, that feel offensive to me, to us, to many. For residents, they also signify safety. In their opinion, the current camp is an improvement. They all have a roof over their heads, a proper bed, their own shower and toilet. This immensely increases their feelings of safety. 

At the end of the day, it's up to us to make a difference inside these fences. And, we can and we will.

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