Kirsten Mosey, 19, spent five weeks volunteering in a Greek refugee camp in 2016. She was at SAC last week, where she shared her encounter amidst one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.
It wasn’t part of her original plan. After graduating from high school, Kirsten, daughter of SAC photographer Paul Mosey, deferred university to take a missionary trip to New Zealand. Things took an unexpected turn, when instead of heading home to Richmond Hill, she accepted an assignment to lead a team of seven volunteers at Camp Moira on the Greek Island of Lesvos, 10km from the Turkey border.
“It was quite an experience,” admitted the petite young woman, periodically smoothing back strands of long red hair as she spoke in Chapel to faculty and students—many not much younger than her—with a confidence and ease that belied her age.
Her presentation began with a sobering video depicting the dire situation in Greece. Kirsten explained that approximately 30,000 refugees had entered Greece illegally in the preceding year, overwhelming a country already in economic crisis. But boatload after boatload of people fleeing war in Syria and strife in the Middle East and Asia kept arriving.
In March 2016, a month before Kirsten arrived at camp, an accord was struck between the European Union and Turkey to address the mounting crisis. In it, Syrians were granted processing priority at the camps since they were the only ones fleeing war, the official definition of a refugee.
“This created ridiculous tensions and pecking orders,” said Kirsten, who bore witness to the ensuing riots, fights, and fires set by protestors. Camp Moira, a former prison with room for 2,000, was bursting with 4,000 people from about 27 different nations. Her organization, Euro Relief, was one of only two that remained, others having reportedly left in protest over the unfairness of the accord.
“Young single men became hopeless because they were told they likely wouldn’t be moving on, as most were not Syrian. They acted out in aggression. I had to evacuate the camp a few times because people were throwing rocks, stones, tools…whatever they could find. These protests led to violence between them and police, and it never ended well.
“We had to evacuate if they set fires that spread in the camp. Deportation rumours would start and lead to groups of people targeting other groups. The best way I can explain it is to imagine that SAC is a refugee camp, and the clans and houses represent your countries and nationalities. The tensions between clans and houses go back generations and you hate each other. And you are stuck in the same place for five to six months at a time. You’re fighting over food, over clothing. It’s cold, you have nowhere to sleep, you don’t know the language. You can’t contact people because you don’t have a phone or it doesn’t work. And family members are missing or dead.
“Now imagine trying to stay clam, peaceful, and hopeful in that situation,” said Kirsten.
In the information tent and clothing tents she manned overnight from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., she gave out tents, blankets, and decided who most needed the limited clothing. She met people who were malnourished and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some had no shoes or only one change of clothes. Many nights she sat and listened as people poured out their horror stories, desperate to give voice to their suffering.
“Hearing their absolute tragedies was very sobering. You realize for these people it’s not just a five-week vacation in Greece, taking a year off school; this is their life,” she said.
Despite their hardships, she saw people who remained hopeful they would soon move on to a new life. She received displays of kindness and generosity from the same people protesting and fighting with others. “It was a very weird situation to get your head around,” said Kirsten.
And, yes, there were times she’d had enough. “OK, I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to go back to Canada, I’m tired of this,” she admitted, but never gave in because the people made it worth it.
Kirsten reminded students that as educated young men in Canada, they are among the most privileged global citizens. She urged them to “not just let this be a news story” but to recognize that these are real people in real need.
“Lend your voice, together we can make a difference,” she concluded.
Story by Cindy Veitch