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Mavrovouni Refugee Camp: An internet connection to keep going

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Fatimada, 38, from Congo, has been stuck in the refugee camps on Lesvos for over one year: “You know, in Congo I was facing physical violence but here in the camp it’s mental violence. I don’t know which is worst.” TSF’s connection is one of the few things that helps her keep going.

In the administrative zone at the entrance of the Mavrovouni camp, lines of asylum seekers try to move forward with their documents. You hear English, Greek, French. But no matter the language, I see in each of them the essential need to find a stable situation. Many of them have been waiting for months to see their situation improve. Time passes slowly for them, very slowly. The Agean Sea is calm, the sun is shining, it is hot and there is a lot of movement of people coming and going. We head towards the area covered by TSF’s connection. On the way, I see people using pushchairs to transport their things. Some other women are carrying everything above their heads. There are children running and playing around. People take shelter under the trees to better bear the heat. I see a group of women sitting in a circle, chatting effusively. I wonder what they are talking about. The washed clothes are hung between tents, it's rather chaotic.

Around TSF’s access point, I find some people trying to escape the sun under what little shade there is. They take shelter under a small construction and take out their phones to use the free Wi-Fi. Some are calling, some texting, some surfing social media. I ask them if I can take a photo of them and they say yes, they smile. I seize this opportunity to talk to them about the connection. They tell me that it is very useful for them, that they need to be connected. Whether it's just to keep in touch with their families or to stay informed. One of them says thank you. At that moment, talking to them, I understand better than ever how important it is for them to be connected. Their situation is already so precarious, isolating them from the outside world would only make it worse. This link with their families and the outside world helps them stay afloat.

Before leaving, I approach a woman's tent and ask her if she has time to talk a bit. She says yes and invites me inside the tent so that I too can hide from the sun. Her name is Fatimada, her sister and nephew are in the tent with her. She arrived to Greece in May 2020, escaping violence in Congo. In the beginning she was at Moria, and then was moved to Mavrovouni. “I was very scared because I didn’t want to be separated from my sister and nephew but we managed to stay together. We help each other. I don’t know if I could make it alone.” We talk about her conditions in the camp and how TSF’s connection is helping her. “We don’t do anything here. I want to work. I want to live. I want to do something. And this is why it is important to have internet. Because it allows us to be in touch with friends and family. My sister is here but the rest of my family is in Congo and I worry about them, they worry about me. With internet I can send them messages and tell that I’m fine. So, thank you for the connection, it helps us. We would go crazy otherwise. People should see how the situation inside the camp is.” She says that she has no children and that she doesn’t want to bring a child into this world. “For what? These are no conditions for children, for anyone but especially for children.” With a tired look on her face, she complains, she is angry.

It is my first mission with TSF and my first day in a refugee camp. Even if I have no words, I am relieved. Relieved because Fatimada’s anger means that she has not given up. It means that even in a place that is the antipode of life and where even a 38 years old woman doesn’t want to bring life into the world to avoid additional suffering, there is still hope. Relieved, because TSF’s connection contributes to this hope, by acting as a lifeline for people like Fatimada and the more than 6000 others in her situation. It helps them not to give up, to stay connected, to feel alive.