Merjan* from Lebanon stands outside Moria refugee camp, the day after being attacked by another refugee woman. Merjan had a miscarriage and lost her baby as a result of the assault. The baby would have been her first child.
~Interview by Talitha Brauer
(Sitting in a cafe outside Moria)
How long were you in Beirut?
I lived in Beirut maybe for 8 years. Before, I was in Abu Dhabi, and Egypt, with my Mom, and Syria, and I came back to Lebanon. I studied graphic design and photography.
From where should I start my story? First, I don’t know my dad. Because my dad was lost when I was 3 years old. So I don’t know him. And my mom married another man, who hurt me in some ways. Some bad ways. And I looked at him like my dad, you know, because I didn’t know my dad.
My mom didn’t like me, because I was a copy-paste of my dad. She told me this. So she didn’t love me. She saw (with her own eyes) what [my stepfather] did with me: trying to touch me, trying to kiss me here. I told him no.
I looked, and I saw my mom looking at us, so I let him, to see more [of my mom’s reaction]. When he saw my mom, he asked me, “What are you working on on your computer?”. I told him, “I’m working on Illustrator, on Photoshop, and Facebook. But already, my mom saw everything.
Then after he raped me, I tried to kill myself from the third floor.
How old were you?
16. [After that] I tried more than 7 times to kill myself...
All of my body was broken: my arms, my legs... I [hit] the ground on my legs. And also, the doctor thought I was bleeding from inside my head. But I was still alive.
You survived. That’s amazing. That’s a total miracle, really.
Yeah. Not maybe, for sure.
I spoke with Merjan twice in Lesvos: once in Moria refugee camp, the day after the assault, and the following evening we met in the cafe outside Moria camp. At the time, she was with her husband. Two months later, they were transferred to Athens, but life did not become easier for Merjan. She left her husband after he resumed his drug use and became physically aggressive.
I visited her in a home she was sharing with another refugee while she tried to get her papers in order. She clearly did not feel safe.
We stayed in touch until the summer time, when she made it to the mainland and disappeared from social media and WhatsApp. Her story is not isolated: there are many vulnerable women in Moria facing different forms of violence, from sexual assault to domestic violence. Living conditions in Moria refugee camp have reached record levels of violence and unsafely - an estimated 8,000 are being housed in a facility originally intended as a transit camp for 1,700. Fights break out every night, there is no privacy, ethnic tensions run along the same lines as they did in people’s homelands.
Women like Merjan who have a previous history of abuse and suicide are particularly at risk, as the conditions in Moria camp are leading to mental breakdowns in people who arrive to the island in a relatively stable condition.
*Merjan has been given a pseudonym to protect her identity.
Interview, story, and photography by Talitha Brauer ~ November 2016, Lesvos, Greece