PORTRAIT 12 – LESVOS – CAMP MORIA – JULY 2016
He’s the only one who approaches us when he sees the photo camera. “I’m here for three days now and I need help.” He gratefully takes our offer to just listen, even when we explain that we can’t offer any other help. We take a seat against the guardrail by the side of the road next to camp Moria as he tells his story. His voice is soft and choice of words formal, yet in such a rush, as if he’s being chased.
He’s from Nigeria, where the Niger Delta oil war is still ongoing. It appears he’s been recruited at age eleven by the activist movement lead by general Dokubo-Asari. He bares his chest to show his scars. Straight lines which are as he explains distinctive marks of membership. “I was far too young to understand what I was part of, and was fully brainwashed by them. We did unimaginable horrific things!”
“One day I had to kidnap a woman and a very old man. The woman spoke to me in my native tribe language and said: ‘My son, what you’re doing isn’t right.’ She could have been my mother… Something inside of me broke. I knew she was right, but also knew the consequences –being murdered– of stepping out.
Still her words eventually motivated him, at age 23, to escape from the movement. Escaping the country was his only choice and to do so unnoticed was difficult and very risky but he succeeded and managed to travel from Nigeria to Libya, where he stayed for some months.
He tried to earn some money, next to the little he had, with vague jobs but didn’t really succeed. “Then one day I met a ‘kind’ man who offered me food, a pair of shoes and allowed me to call my little brother. I called and told him that I got out of the country safely, and then heard that the terrorists went to my family’s home and murdered my mother because I fled.” He can barely finish this last sentence and breaks out in tears…
We sit quietly next to each other against the guardrail, while he sobs. More than ten minutes pass. He dries his tears with an old sock he pulled out of his pocket. A few African refugees pass by and encouragingly pat him on his shoulder or shake his hand.
After a while he calms down and continues his story. He traveled further from Libya to Turkey, where he got caught and arrested. “It was all fine by me! At least I could finally tell my story. The Turkish police wasn’t interested and handed me a letter which stated I was to leave the country within 30 days. So that’s what I did.”
“I had no money but was allowed on a boat to Lesvos because I knew how to sail.”
There weren’t anymore boats with refugees supposed to arrive since Turkey made that deal with Europe. He however, managed to arrive in Lesvos only three days ago. In practice, weekly a few boats do still come in.
“We were with about twenty people on this boat with a lousy engine. It shut down four times and every time I got it back on. The fifth time I didn’t and so we drifted about, until the Greek coastguard picked us up.”
Asked about the conditions in Camp Moria he switches back to speaking in formal words: “My current accommodation isn’t comfortable. At night we sleep together with the twelve of us in a row on a piece of sheet and we can’t stretch our legs without touching another. There aren’t any mattresses and the mosquitos are disturbing. There are barely any toilet facilities available.” Still these things don’t really bother him. “I just really want to confess. These past days I’ve asked to go to a church or if a priest could visit me here. I want to confess to all my sins as a terrorist and can only hope he will pray for me.” No one has honored his request as yet.
Would you like to know more about the circumstances in Lesvos? Read: About Lesvos