October 19, 2020
Becky’s Bathhouse in picturesque Lesvos, Greece [Credit: Robyn Huang]
(VANCOUVER, B.C.) — Near the waters of coastal Lesvos, Greece sits a building with Spanish-style roofing and rows of clotheslines hanging out front. The wind swirls in from the ocean, creating the perfect condition for thick sweaters and long dresses to air-dry. Each day, after a much-needed shower, small groups of women and their children will gather around couches in this building to sip on hot tea. It is calm and quiet, a reprieve from the horrors of earlier in the day.
Becky’s Bathhouse is an NGO and wellness center for women and children from the Moria refugee camp. The project was born out of memory to the British diplomat and humanitarian aid worker Rebecca Dykes, who was assaulted and murdered in Beirut in 2017.
The wellness center provides showers to vulnerable asylum-seekers, specifically women and children. Moria has been housing around 13,000 people in a capacity meant for 4,000 under abhorrent hygienic conditions. There is an estimated one shower for every few hundred people in this camp. Women, children, and unaccompanied minors are vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and internal politics when it comes to showers and bathroom facilities.
A fire devastated the camp on Sept. 9. Its inhabitants have since moved into a new camp dubbed “Moria 2.0”—erected on former military shooting grounds— after weeks of sleeping on roadsides and parking lots. There are no showers at the new site, according to the Bathhouse’s coordinator, Annie Petros. “The majority of women have not cleaned themselves since before the fire,” she says. “This lack of human rights is an emergency.”
Even before this, the crisis here was already compounded by the pandemic. There are 243 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases across the camp and ongoing concerns that these numbers could intensify as the weather worsens. To mitigate the spread, UNHCR has been supporting national health facilities with rapid testing of asylum-seekers entering the new camp.
Becky’s Bathhouse seeks to be a safe space for the most exposed groups within this already vulnerable community. Petros explains that their focus is on “supporting a sense of normalcy within the lives of women here.” The Bathhouse works in partnership with other NGOs to ensure the preservation of human dignity and improved wellbeing of people currently living as refugees on this island.
Volunteers from all walks of life run the safe space—all women. Asylum-seekers are brought from Moria to the Bathhouse for a mental and physical escape, where they can take a shower and, in some instances, drop off laundry. Their accompanying children can play in a dedicated space with toys or express themselves with art materials. Upon leaving, each family receives a hygiene bag filled with donations from companies like LUSH and individuals from across the world.
A child’s hand-drawn picture of home [Credit: Robyn Huang]
The Bathhouse halted its regular operations during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, only re-opening its doors on Oct. 6 with limited capacity. During the pandemic, the team shifted its priorities to the distribution of essential items like hygiene products.
The volunteer team remains perpetually hopeful with the European Commission and the international community to carry out new agendas for processing asylum cases. Petros reminds everyone, “The refugee crisis is often forgotten when it’s not at our doorsteps.” The situation is complicated, but they encourage their supporters and networks to spread awareness of the crisis and to contact government officials to drive actionable change.