IN PHOTOS: Everyday resilience in a Lesvos refugee camp

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Nanna Vedel-Hertz - [email protected]
IN PHOTOS: Everyday resilience in a Lesvos refugee camp
A resident makes his own fishing rod at the Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesbos. Photo: Nanna Vedel-Hertz

While conditions at refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesvos are dire, it hasn't stopped residents finding ways to live through the constant state of emergency.


This article is part of Changing the Narrative. Articles in this series are written by student or early career journalists who took part in The Local's training course on solutions-focused migration reporting. Find out more about the project here.

The new Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos currently houses around 7,800 refugees, according to numbers from the UNHCR. Situated next to a smaller, older shelter of the same name, the new camp was created as a replacement for the infamous Moria camp, which was destroyed in a fire in early September. At the time Moria housed around 12,600 people, while it was in fact only built for 2,700.


Moria was infamous for its bad conditions, and the new camp does not seem to be an improvement. It was described by the UNHCR as an "emergency site" and the organisation has called for immediate action as the living conditions in the camp are in urgent need of improvement, especially with the weather getting colder.

While the conditions on Lesvos have been protested by many organisations as inhumane, it has not stopped the new residents from adapting and finding ways to live through the constant state of emergency.

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One of the areas where the new camp has received heavy criticism is in regards to food. The residents in Kara Tepe are provided with two meals every day; however, according to several residents in the camp the quality of the food is so low that only one of the meals is actually edible.

In response, some refugee volunteers have taken matters into their own hands. Every morning around 9am they start baking bread for their fellow residents in the camp. They continue their work until 3pm, resulting in up to 400 pieces of bread a day, which are then distributed in the camp.

An Afghan man sits next to the oven where he and his wife bake bread for the residents of the Kara Tepe camp. 


Others catch their food themselves. This man has made his own fishing pole and is catching dinner for himself, his wife and his daughter.

The Kara Tepe camp is situated next to the ocean and exposed to wind and rain. Consequently, the camp has been flooded on several occasions.

The camp consists of tents that are not insulated, have no heating and offer little protection against winter weather. The residents already reported in early November that it is impossible to sleep at night because they are too cold. 

The Kara Tepe camp has no showers so the residents either have to wash in the sea, or walk approximately 4km to an NGO that provides showers just outside the old camp.

Here a father waits in line to take a shower with his young son. 

There are several NGOs on the island that provide refugees with basic things such as warm clothes, sanitary products and shoes.

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However, as Greece entered its second lockdown due to Covid-19 on November 7th, people were no longer allowed to leave the camp and were therefore not able to get what they needed to cover their most basic needs. The lockdown was originally set to end on November 30th, but has been extended until January 7th.


Many of the families from the camp usually spend a majority of their day outside of the camp, walking around the area or spending time at the local supermarket parking lot.

Since Greece has been in lockdown it has been next to impossible for the residents to leave the camp and many of them have now been stuck inside for close to a month.

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A mother breastfeeding her child in the middle of a parking lot.

While there are currently no organised activities for the kids to spend their time and no formal schools, the parents do their best to entertain the kids and keep them busy and happy.

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Fatima lovingly holds her five-year-old son Mohammed. Mohammed is suffering from severe mental issues and has talked about suicide on several occasions. Fatima says that he will be fine one second, then crying and impossible to comfort the next. She is extremely worried for Mohammed and his future. Yet even though she has tried to get help on the island, she has not received any.

Unfortunately, Mohammed’s case is not the only one; Medecins Sans Frontieres have reported that there is currently a mental health crisis among child refugees on Lesvos.

READ ALSO: 'Let children be children': Supporting young refugees' mental health in Wales

A group of young men practice martial arts in the setting sun. The boys pictured are predominantly from Afghanistan. Most of them live in the Kara Tepe camp.

There are not a lot of ways for the people on Lesvos to spend their time, but the possibility of doing sport, whether it is yoga or martial arts, gives them something to focus on.

The sports practices are organised by the NGO Yoga & Sport for Refugees, which was founded on Lesvos in 2017. The NGO also organises swimming, running and team sports.

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The activities are especially important seeing that there is currently no formal schooling provided for anyone in the camp.

The Instagram account Now You See Me Moria, which publishes photos taken by camp residents, has furthermore reported how attempts at arranging non-formal educational activities in the camp have been shut down by the police. However, they also report that new ways are continually being found to continue teaching and learning, even in small spaces.

Megin is 11 years old and lives in the Kara Tepe camp with her parents. Both are sick, so Megin is currently caring for the family. Back home Megin went to school, but when her father had to go underground because he was threatened by certain groups, Megin dropped out of school and started selling yoghurt to provide for her family.

Yet Megin holds on to her dream: one day starting school again.

You might expect that living every day in a state of emergency would force you to give up all hope, but the people on Lesvos prove otherwise. They have somehow found ways to adapt and to hold on to their hopes for a better future.

Nanna Vedel-Hertz is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Denmark. 



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