I met Sharif (16) as he sorted clothing donations, volunteering with the NGO EuroRelief. When he arrived on Lesvos, he was not accepted into the section for unaccompanied minors in Moria Camp because he did not have his ID with him. It took months for him to receive a scanned copy of his ID from a friend back home, and when it finally came through, the security told him he could not stay with the unaccompanied minors because he had been on the island too long.
~ Interview by Talitha Brauer
Can you tell me your name?
And you're from Afghanistan...
And how old are you?
16, 17, yeah.
And when did you arrive here, to the island?
Maybe 9 months ago. Now I'm looking to stay in Greece. I don't have papers, I don't have a passport to go to another country. So I'm looking to stay here. Now I'm working sometimes.
What are you doing for work?
Sometimes I help EuroRelief and other people... Blankets, tents, [just helping] all the time. Sometimes, before I was staying here, there was fighting all the time. African, Syrian, Afghani -- they all started fighting. So I just stayed in my tent.
Jeremy told me "just stay in your tent, this is your room". But after the fighting started, my room [was burned] in a fire. All my stuff, my family pictures, my memory card, all my stuff... After, the EuroRelief boss, Jeremy, told me "OK, come to my house, you [can stay there] -- it's no problem". Now it's better. I'm staying at Jeremy's house...
You're staying with Jeremy?
Yeah, Jeremy's wife, she teaches me English sometimes, and other schoolwork. And other times, I'm working. Yeah, this is my life. I don't have family. My family are all dead.
When did they die? – 11 months ago.
My mom was sick. All the time, she was crying. All the time going to the doctors...
Her knee was...
Yeah, maybe, I don't know what happened before. I was just a baby. But all the time her knee was...
Yeah. She was crying all the time. One day, she told me, "I'm going to the doctor". I said, "OK, you're going to the doctor". My sister told me – she was 20 – she said, "I'll go to the hospital [with her]. You stay home. You go to practice." So, I went to practice, and after, my friend called me and said "Sharif, are you OK?". And I said "Yes, I'm OK, what happened?". I didn't understand that my family were all finished, dead.
But how did they die? – My friend didn't tell me my family was dead.
They just asked if you were OK?
Yeah. [They asked me] "what happened? Your mom and sister went to the hospital; did you go [too]?". I said "No, I stayed at home, now I'm going to practice" -- soccer practice, football. "What happened? Tell me." "No, nothing, why". "I'll see you, I'm coming to practice". "OK".
After this, my friend, my best friend, came to the club and he started talking to me... "What happened? What happened? Tell me!". He said, "Are you OK?" "Yes, I'm OK!". He checked my whole body, my hands...
"Yeah, I'm OK, what happened?"
"Did you see what happened to your family?"
They [inaudible] started fighting. Your mom and your sister [went] to the hospital. After she was coming back home. She was waiting for a taxi, and there was some fighting, I don't know, maybe a bomb flash...
A bomb? Yeah. My sister was [inaudible]
So, your mom, your sister, who's 20? – Yeah.
She died? – Yeah, she's dead.
Your brother? – Uh, 9.
9 year old brother...
Yeah. Afterwards I went to the hospital. Somebody told me [to come to see my family]. Somebody told me "stay here. After I call you, you come to this room...". So I stayed outside, waited 30 minutes. After this, the doctor called me and said "check if this is your family". So we went to this [other] room, with the freezers...
Like a morgue? Like, it's cold because they're all dead?
Yes, they're all dead. Then, the freezer door was opened...
You had to identify...
Yeah. I saw like my sister, and my friend told me "that's your sister", and I said "no, that's not my sister". Her face was all bloodied...
It was your sister, but you couldn't even see...
Yeah. After the doctor washed my sister's face, he called me [back]... I said "oh yeah, that's my sister". After, I saw my brother. His face looked all... I don't know what happened. I don't understand what happened. After 30 minutes, 1 hour...
In shock? – Yeah.
Then this doctor gave me some medicine with water, and told me to drink it, saying "maybe you'll [feel better]" after this. So I drank it, and then this guy told me "check your mama". So we went to another office, another room...
A cold room?
No! She was [still alive] for one hour. She was talking to me, like "are you OK?". I said "I'm OK", and she started crying. She asked me if I'd seen my sister. I said "yes, I've seen her, she talked to me...". She said "No, Sharif, you're lying. I saw her before, she was dead..."
"No, she's OK".
"No, she's dead". And she started crying. Then [there was] no more crying. I was OK. The doctor told me to stay outside. He said he'd call me again to talk to mama. I said "OK", so he took my hand and [showed me where to sit]. [I was there] for maybe 1 hour, 30 minutes. After that, one doctor told me, "come here, check your mama; maybe she's asking for you; it might be her last [moments]; she might be dead". I went into the room. I saw my mama. She was dead.
I only stayed in Afghanistan for one more month. After one month, they started fighting all the time. Today, my mama, my family is dead. Tomorrow, maybe I [inaudible]. Somebody asked me "oh, where are you going?". I said I'd stay here, no problem. I'm [inaudible] call the people to go to another country, another class. One day I started walking. For 1 month and 15 days I was walking. I went to Pakistan.
By yourself? – Yeah. And with other people, with other refugees.
Did you say goodbye to your friends? Your best friend?
Yeah. They kept asking me "where are you going? Tell me". I said, after maybe 1 month, I'd call and tell [them where I was]. And my friend started crying. And I was walking, crying, walking, crying. Before, my mama, she told me "Sharif, stay in your country. Don't go to another country."
She told you this before the accident?
Yeah. But after, I started walking to Pakistan. So I started crying, because my mama told me [not to go to another country].
Why did she tell you to stay?
I don't know! [laughing] Maybe she'd [have missed me]! My sister [said the same thing]. "One day, when you start working, you can go to another country: Pakistan, Iraq." I started crying, like "It's my life!". But today, I don't have my mama, or my sister. I don't have my family. I saw another family. One boy was talking to his mama, and I just started crying.
45 days I was walking. One day, this woman asked my name. I told her "Sharif", and she said "OK, please help me, my baby is tired, please take my baby.". I said "OK, no problem". I took the baby and started walking. And this boy was like my brother: His face, his body. I started crying. I had this baby, walking, crying, walking, crying. This boy was maybe 8, 9 years old, he asked me "hey, why are you crying?". – "No, nothing, I'm OK -- too much wind". [unclear] This boy's mother, she told me "stop, come on. Why are you crying? Come on...". – "No, it's nothing. It's OK, I'm just sick." – "No, you're not sick. Just tell me what happened...". [unclear]
Eventually I said "OK, I'll talk to you". So I told her [about what happened to my family] and said "your baby, he looks like my brother. His face, his body." And I started crying. Then she looked, and started crying. For [about] 1 hour. She said "I'm sorry". I said "It's OK, no problem, it's my life".
She cried for an hour?
Yeah, she told me "I'm sorry Sharif. Why didn't you tell me before?"
16 January 2019 ~ Sharif still lives on the island of Lesvos, in a house in a quiet village near the sea. He is learning Greek and English and in his spare time he trains at the gym; boxing is his favourite.
There are currently an estimated 5,000 refugees living in Moria camp and the overspill area called the Olive Grove. 75% of them are from Afghanistan, and about 500 are unaccompanied minors. The refugees are housed in isoboxes in Moria and tents in the Olive Grove. With temperatures dropping below zero this winter, people must create their own warmth, as heating is inadequate in the tents. As a result fires break out on a regular basis. On 16/1/2019, a large tent in the Olive Grove burned down, affecting between 40-50 men who had been living there. No one was injured in the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
See below to support Movement on the Ground and EuroRelief, two NGOs that are rebuilding the tents and providing direct relief to the refugees after the fire.
~ Story and imagery by Talitha Brauer November 2016, March 2017, and December 2018, Lesvos, Greece.
Movement on the Ground manages “The Olive Grove”, providing direct relief to refugees. Their aim is to improve dignity for the refugee population with the support of the local Lesvos community.
EuroRelief works in Moria Camp providing shelter, clothing, and sanitation to refugees arriving in Lesvos. Their goal is to show compassion to those suffering in Greece and in the surrounding regions.