Life in Lesbos

I’m standing next to a refugee from Syria. Its two am – and he is bleeding on my shoes. It’s a nightmare to try and get blood out of shoes. His friends dragged him to our medical cabin – after he took a razor blade to his own wrist. He’s probably drunk. His arm looks pretty bad.

He doesn’t seem to feel the pain – but he is bleeding quite a lot. He won’t sit still and now he wants a cigarette. I agree to let him go. I’m not sure I had any choice. Outside there is a large group of men. Some of them are concerned friends. Others have just come to see what the commotion is. I don’t really blame them – Life in Moria is soul-destroyingly boring.

Now everyone is shouting. I’ve no idea what it’s all about. My interpreter is shouting too. I catch the eye of the other volunteer doctor. She looks a bit scared. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I quietly squeeze his forearm to try and slow the bleeding.
The cigarette is finished. The shouting isn’t. The bleeding isn’t. It’s time to move. Trying to look like I’m in charge – I announce that we are going back inside the cabin. To my relief it works. I like it inside the cabin. It’s warm, well lit, I have medical equipment – and they’re aren’t 20 angry men shouting at each other.

He asks me to take to take my hand off his arm. He wants to take a picture of it on his phone. Really?! I have a closer look. It’s really deep. Is that bone? I’m good at this. I actually quite enjoy this. But normally, I have security guards, sedation, space, light, warmth and if it’s not going well, I can call a friend an they’ll come and help me out. This is Moria – and I’m sat in a portakabin I have used twice before. BRF have done an excellent job at equipping and preparing the cabin. The small space is well organised and despite the unfamiliar surroundings, we are able to find the items we need.

Despite the problems – we successfully stop the bleeding, clean the wound and fourteen stiches later – it looks a bit more like an arm. He takes another photo – I’m quietly proud of the work we’ve done. I wander if it’ll make it onto Facebook. It’s only a small thing – but if BRF weren’t here – his arm would be permanently damaged and he may have even bled to death.

‘Auto-mutilation’ or ‘Self-harm’ is common here. It’s not hard to see why. Despite the media portrayal of refugees, the most striking thing about the refugees I have met – is how normal they are. Normal, kind, friendly, good-humoured, intelligent young men whose lives have been torn apart. I’m surprised that we don’t see more auto-mutilation. The loss of family, the undiagnosed PTSTD, the boredom, the gradual loss of hope, the loss of humanity and then the endless wait.

I’m not sure I would have made it this far.

Text: Dave Clarke
Photo: Henk van Lambalgen Photography