In certain places, just a few kilometers separate the Greek island of Lesvos from the Turkish coast, making it one of the most frequented points of entry into Europe for refugees and migrants. Since 2015, boats have arrived on the island almost daily. Oftentimes, they are dinghies crammed with dozens of people who have risked everything to make the journey to Europe. For the first several years, most of the arrivals to Lesvos were Syrians who were fleeing the ongoing conflict in their homeland, however now most of the boats are filled Afghan, Congolese or Eritrean individuals.
The journey to Greece is incredibly treacherous from start to finish and since 2015, thousands of men, women, and children have drowned attempting it. However, despite this sobering truth, many of the refugees who have made it to Lesvos say the horrors of their journey don’t compare to the “hell” they face every day once they reach the island.
Upon arrival, the vast majority of people are transported to Moria Camp, which is a “holding center” designed to house refugees and migrants for a few days before they move onto the mainland. The camp has a maximum capacity of 3,000 individuals, but as the years pass and the E.U.’s stance on refugees becomes increasingly hostile, Moria has become a place where people stay for two years instead of two days. Now, roughly 8,000 inhabitants are crammed into the camp, and violence and sexual assault are rampant. It is filthy, chaotic, and plagued with disease and discouragement.
One Happy Family
Just over the hill from Moria, a paradoxical environment exists. One Happy Family (OHF) is a community center that collaborates with several other NGOs to provide a variety of services, such as food, health care, education, and the barbershop, for free. Volunteers from around the world work at OHF and the atmosphere is upbeat, warm, and welcoming. One of the organizations that operate there is called Yoga and Sport for Refugees, and it provides a variety of exercise, martial arts, yoga and running classes six days a week. Many of the classes are taught by refugees themselves, and many of them train four and five times a week, learning new skills or improving upon ones they already developed in their home nations.
Yoga and Sport for Refugees
Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer for Yoga and Sport for Refugees, (YSP) and I was astonished at the contrast I observed between the individuals who did not participate in YSFR classes and those who did. This summer I traveled back to Lesvos to investigate this disparity. With the help of my college, I spent two weeks in Greece, attempting to measure whether the services offered by YSFR are beneficial for the mental health of those living in Moria Camp. Using a renowned psychological measurement called the Hopkins and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, I attempted to measure an individuals’ overall mental health. Additionally, I asked each participant several questions about his/her participation in YSFR’s exercise programs. Across the board, those who scored higher on the Hopkins and Harvard Questionnaire, (i.e those with higher levels of PTSD, depression, and anxiety), participated less frequently in the program.
I will continue this research project throughout the upcoming year, expanding my study to other refugee “crises” around the world, in the hopes of providing insight into what helps people trapped in the most horrible of situations to feel just a little bit better.
Contributor Emily Fishel researches the global refugees crisis at at Eckerd College on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where she is a senior in international relations and global affairs.