Europe, Globe, United Kingdom

Life in Moria, the ‘worst refugee camp on Earth’

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, a new book based on experiences in the ‘worst refugee camp on Earth’ is to be published by Glasgow-based social enterprise publisher, Arkbound. Greater Govanhill  interview with writer Elika Ansar.


Photo from Greater Govanhill.

Sorana Horsia / Greater Govanhill 


Elika Ansari spent four years as a humanitarian worker in Moria, the biggest refugee camp in Europe. Located on the island of Lesbos, Greece, the camp was known for its appalling living conditions due to overpopulation and was eventually destroyed by a fire in 2020.

Ansari was interning at the European External Action Service when the European Union struck a deal with Turkey to hold off refugees from reaching European soil. “Camp Moria was constructed as a transit camp” she explains. “So people would stay there for a couple of days, maybe maximum weeks, and then they would get transferred to the mainland. But once the EU-Turkey deal was signed, they were to be contained on the island.”  In 2016, Turkey and the European Union signed a “statement of cooperation” which determined that Turkey was a safe enough country for refugees fleeing from the war in Syria.

The agreement entailed that Turkey would stop people travelling irregularly to the European Union. Anyone arriving irregularly on the Greek islands from Turkey could be returned there. Also, for every irregular refugee returned from the islands to Turkey, EU Member States would accept one refugee from inside Turkey.

As part of the agreement, Turkey received €6 billion to improve facilities for refugees in the country and Turkish nationals were granted visa-free travel to Europe.

At the time, the media was overfilled with news about “waves” of refugees coming to Europe, fleeing from the Syrian war. Ansari felt like she could be more helpful in a refugee camp than as a European diplomat.

Photo from Greater Govanhill.

The book she has now written entitled The Five stages of Moria: “The worst refugee camp on Earth” was inspired from her experience as a humanitarian worker: “In the time that I was there, I started to be able to tell who had just arrived in the camp, who had been there for a couple of months, who had been there over a year. Because it felt like they were going through stages. Moria became like this traumatic experience for everybody, regardless of their backstories.”

The stages she identified are based on the concept of five stages of grief:

Shock: “They come here thinking they’ve left the wars behind, but they are shocked to see that this is much worse, in the sense that this is not at all what they were expecting.”

Anger: “They were lashing out at humanitarian workers as well because they didn’t know who to hold responsible.”

Guilt: “Especially in families, the head of the household always felt this unbearable guilt that they’ve dragged their family into this.”

Depression: “I remember this lady who was there for ages, and she was always smiling. She was always laughing, regardless of the circumstances. Then, at some point, she was so down, dishevelled, exhausted with life.”

Acceptance: “I was also really impressed by the strength and the resilience that I found among the communities there. I mean, at the end of the day, they would come to realise that this will pass, it’s temporary. We’re not going to stay here forever.”

The book is fictional, but based on real stories that Ansari has seen while working in Moria. The five stages are represented by five characters, which incorporate multiple experiences: a single mother, an unaccompanied minor, a young man and a humanitarian worker.

Following a recently successful crowdfunding campaign, the book will be published by Arkbound, a small, independent publishing social enterprise based in Glasgow and Bristol. Their aim is to support authors from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds to get their voices heard, especially for writing that covers important social and environmental themes.
The launch will take place on the 30th of September at the Good Press Gallery, 32 St. Andrews St, Glasgow G1 5PD at 6:30pm. The event is free and open to the public upon registration.

Moria. Fotomovimiento / Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Following is an extract from the book, “The five stages of Moria: “The Worst Refugee camp on Earth” by Elika Ansari, published by Arkbound:

“I am falling. Falling down a deep, dark ditch. It feels like I’ve been falling for hours and there is no end in sight. It’s so cold, I can’t feel my hands or feet. Not even my face. 

What is this place? Where am I? I stop for a moment; just one moment. Now I am suspended in mid-air. Somehow, that feels worse than falling. At least if I am falling, I’d be getting somewhere. Like this, I am just waiting. And waiting. And waiting…But for what? 

My eyes begin to adjust to the darkness. Unknown shapes cast shadows, ominous contours of something or nothing. Nothing about this place looks or feels familiar. Except—

There is something down there, but I can’t see. It’s still too dark. 

Is this what dying feels like? 

Splash. I hear water. Clank. There is something over there! Splash. What’s happening?

Whatever force is holding me up in the air suddenly releases my weight. I drop out of the sky like a bird with no wings.



Moria en feu. Photo by Gustave Deghilage / Flickr.  Creative Commons License.

I’m in a rubber boat in the middle of the sea. A storm is brewing. There are 70 of us – men, women and children – crammed next to each other. My heart hammers against my chest as bolts of lightning break through the dark sky. The muttering around me shatters into women screaming and children crying. 

Fast forward a few seconds, and I am throwing up grimy water from deep inside my core. Where’s it all coming from? It soaks my clothes, drenches me to the bone. It’s not exactly cold. It’s numbing. It’s everywhere. 

Make it stop. Please. I can’t swim. Help! Please. I can’t swim.

Someone hears me. 

Hello? It’s still dark, but there is something here. Someone. I can feel her. Eyes. Big, brown, moist. And familiar, so familiar. They are gazing at me. No, more like boring through me, suddenly making me feel exposed; naked. A trembling courses through my body. I wrap my arms around my chest to shield my skin from intrusive eyes. So much has changed now. I am not who I used to be.

Madar jan.

Article published in Greater Govanhill.

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