Safe Hands in the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos: A Starfish Project

Imagine that you are a young mother of three from Syria, and that after fleeing your home with your husband and family, you arrived in Lesbos and have been waiting for months to have your asylum papers processed. You don’t know when that will happen, it could take more than a year, you have been told. You are staying in a tent with other families because the containers are full. You have no privacy. When it is cold you are cold, and when it rains you get wet. You try to keep your family clean and healthy, but there are not enough toilets and showers for everyone. In addition, you are afraid to leave the tent at night because some of the men without families drink too much and harass you and the other women.

You have heard that a strange new disease is killing people all over the world. It has a name but you cannot remember it. You don’t know what the symptoms are, and you don’t know what to do to protect yourself and your family. What you do know is that the camp is on lockdown, which means that no one can leave. This is especially hard on the men, including your husband. They have been used to feeling at least a little bit free when they walked outside the camp. Now they feel like they are in prison. They get angry easily, and this makes life harder for you and the other women.

The refugee camp in Moria, Lesbos, Greece was declared an international human rights disaster even before the Covid-19 crisis. Over 19,000 people are housed in a camp built for no more than 3000. Sanitation facilities are inadequate—300 toilets and 250 showers—and they are almost always filthy. There is very little organized rubbish collection which means that people simply discard used diapers and other garbage wherever they can. Observers have commented that the conditions in the camp are worse than those they have seen in Asia and Africa. Already suffering from an economic crisis that began in 2009, the Greek government has lacked the resources and the will to deal with the refugee crisis. The new government plans to make it more difficult to get asylum and to deport those who are refused. Other European countries turn a blind eye.

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, Greece responded swiftly with a stay-at-home policy. For the refugee camps, this means lockdown. Though the international press has warned that the disease would spread rapidly in the camps, the government has done little beyond the lockdown to ensure that this does not happen. People in the camps have not been informed about the nature of the disease and the measures required to stem its spread. Although everyone else in the world is washing hands and using hand sanitzers, there are no sanitizers in the camps and not enough clean water for washing hands.

Starfish Foundation, a local NGO founded by residents of the island of Lesbos, has responded to the Covid-19 virus with an emergency handwashing program called #SafeHands at the Moria refugee camp. SafeHands installed five handwashing stations at the entrance to the camp to protect the inhabitants from infection by visitors and for their own use. Each washing station consists of a refillable 30 liter drum with a tap, a bucket below to catch the water, and a stand for the water drum. Approximately 2500 people use the handwashing stations from 8 am to 5 pm when volunteers are present to inform the refugees about the virus and the need for washing hands to prevent its spread. They remain in use at all hours.

Starfish Foundation is working with Stand By Me Lesvos, the refugee activist group Moria Corona Awareness Team (MCAT), and other community representatives, with the hope that the refugees will take responsibility for cleaning and maintaining the stations themselves. Currently more than 50 young refugee men are helping with SafeHands. They receive a good meal provided by Starfish every day, but more importantly they are being given a chance to do something constructive with their time, to help others, and to learn social and work skills.

Donations to Starfish are desperately needed. They will be used to cover the costs of refilling the water drums and replenishing soap and towels, and, when sufficient, to add additional stations so that all of the inhabitants of the Moria camp can wash their hands at least once a day. (Scroll down to the bottom of the paypal option for English.)

If you are feeling sorry for yourself today because your movements are restricted, I can guarantee that you will feel better if you reach out to help someone who has it worse than you. That was my mother’s advice, and it is good counsel. As soon as I finish this post, I am going to make a contribution to Starfish. Can you help too?


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent books are  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology and A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.

Categories: Activism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion

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17 replies

  1. Dear Carol,

    Your post today is so powerful. Thank you for giving us the information and for helping us to imagine the conditions so vividly. Also for the links to the short video, which I found incredibly moving – I had never seen footage from inside the camp – and to the Starfish Foundation for the possibilty to help. I just donated to Starfish (as I have many times before), and your mother was right, it made me feel much better. Even though the pandemic has reduced my own income to zero for the foreseeable future, I am infinitely better off than the refugees in Moria, and so grateful to be in a position to help.

    You make this important point: ‘The new government plans to make it more difficult to get asylum and to deport those who are refused. Other European countries turn a blind eye.’
    This means that people are trapped for much, much longer periods in these camps than most people realise, with no option to either go on or go back. I think most Europeans also don’t understand that their governments not only turn a blind eye, they actively turn their backs, refusing to bring refugees – even vulnerable child refugees – out of camps like Moria and to other European countries where these people already have relatives. See this article in yesterday’s Observer:

    This is in breach of international law, but it gains votes for parties with anti-immigration policies, and that in turn empowers many European governments to continue to ignore their commitments to bringing refugees out of camps like Moria – also to continue selling billions of euros’ worth of weapons to all sides in the wars displacing these waves of refugees…

    Love to you, and thanks for all you do.
    xx, Laura

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of my friends has been working with a legal NGO helping the refugees. A lot of time and paperwork is required, but legally families can be reunified. This applies to parents and children under 18, but usually not to other relatives. What the UK refused to do is to rehouse unaccompanied minors (mostly but not only young boys) to get them out of the dangerous conditions in the camp. In this case, the country in question must have a program to care for these children and to integrate them into their society when they grow up. In addition to everything else unaccompanied minors are at risk of being trafficked or of turning to prostitution to get the money to survive.


  2. Your description and the photo are heart-breaking. I hope the world’s millionaires and billionaires will come to the help of NGOs who are helping refugees and other people in need. Is that a foolish hope?? As we’re seeing every day, governments aren’t much help anymore to anybody.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol, I think it is so important to share these terrible stories because it is too easy to get stuck in our own worries. Thank you. You remind us that folks are suffering horribly all over the world – and so many – excluding FAR folks NEED that reminder. This story, at least, has hope attached.

    The following is inexcusable:

    “Though the international press has warned that the disease would spread rapidly in the camps, the government has done little beyond the lockdown to ensure that this does not happen. People in the camps have not been informed about the nature of the disease and the measures required to stem its spread.”

    Unfortunately in the US people that DO have the resources are ignoring them – I am hearing nightmare after nightmare about friends in New Mexico who are shopping in stores without any protocols in place – people everywhere are protesting protective sanctions – this is making me feel crazy.


  4. Thank you for this post, Carol. Donation made.


  5. Carol, the donations are tabulated in Euros on the PayPal link, which means I do not know how much I am sending. Any guidance would be appreciated. Thank you so much for bringing this situation to our attention. I will re-post the info as often as possible.


    • It seemed to be only a few more dollars than euros. That is I made the donation in euros, the receipt in dollars was only a little more. I don’t know the formula for making the calculation. I just googled and got 1 Euro equals 1.09 United States Dollar.


    • If you scroll to the bottom of paypal page you should be able to change currency and language, or so I have been told.


      • After clicking “Donate with PayPal” and logging into my account, PayPal converted the Euro amount into U.S. dollars so I could see the actual amount I was donating, which is just a few dollars more than the Euros. Just wanted to let folks know. There was no place on my screen to scroll down and change currency, just FYI. But it worked, which is all that matters!


  6. Thanks, Carol, about the info and the donation link. Count me in!


  7. Dear Carol,
    Thank you for your post.
    I am contributing to Starfish.
    The link to Amazon for sale purchase of The Serpentine Path does not seem to work for me.
    Dan Sweet


  8. Dear Carol, Thank you so much for posting this. I am so happy to contribute to a campaign that makes sense and is beneficial. How often we forget to start with the simplest steps. I was so touched by the fact that the wash basins are being used all day, every day. This is how we witness!


  9. thank you so much Carol. Donation made, and information shared to groups and FB page.


  10. Thank you Carol. Done!


  11. This is one heartbreaking reality, yet most people turn a blind eye on it. If you’d like to read an essay on the same issue of the refugee crisis:

    Thanks for making people aware of this issue <3


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