Stand By Me Lesvos

Corona awareness campaign wins PR-Bild-Award

“Stay Home” from Muhannad Al-Manild wins third prize in the NGO category.

Frankfurt / Mytilini, October 30, 2020 – The Moria camp no longer exists, in the beginning of September a fire devastated this “non-location” of Europe. In the meantime up to 20,000 people lived in the refugee camp, which was originally set up as a hot spot for around 1,000 residents. As a result, there was no infrastructure worth mentioning, the children did not go to school, and the people who had fled war, oppression and displacement in the hope of a better life lived in makeshift shelters made of wooden pallets and plastic sheeting.

„Stay home- this is my home“

With the onset of the corona pandemic at the beginning of March, concerns about the virus entering the camp grew. But: How should people who live close together keep their distance and wash hands with limited access to water, pay attention to hygiene? How to implement the advice of the health authorities “Stay home”? The 29-year-old Muhannad Al-Mandil from Deir-ez-Zor in Syria, who accompanied the educational campaign of the Greek aid organization Stand by me Lesvos and its partners in the camp, the refugee self-help organizations MCAT and Moria White Helmets, as a photographer, also asked himself this question. During this campaign, he took a picture of a boy in front of his home – a plastic shed in the so-called jungle of the Moria Camp on Lesvos.

Stunning view at the borders of Europe

“Moving”, “current topic”, “looking at the external borders of Europe”: With his picture “Stay home- this is my home”, taken in the so-called jungle of the Moria Camp on Lesbos, Muhannad Al-Mandil was convinced the jury of the PR-Bild-Awards. From a total of 900 submissions from 243 companies, organizations and PR agencies from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, 179 of them from the NGO category, they chose the campaign photo of the Greek organization Stand by me Lesvos as the third winner. For the 15th time, the subsidiary of the German press agency dpa news aktuell honored outstanding images in a total of six categories, portrait, social media photo, stories and campaigns, lifestyle, travel and non-governmental organization NGO. Media partners are the magazine Horizont, Pressesprecher and

The Moria camp burned down, leaving several thousand survivors waiting for miracles in a new tent city. Covid-19 has now also reached Lesbos. Stand by me Lesvos and its partners in the camp are still active, more informations are available here:

Image information: Winner picture, Copyright: Muhannad Al-Mandil. Casting within the scope of the reporting free of charge, donations desired. ©Muhannad Al-Mandil, copyright: private.

The man behind the camera: Muhannad Al-Mandil

Since May, 29-year-old Muhannad Al-Mandil from Deir-ez-Zor, Syria, who photographed the awareness campaign of the Greek NGO Stand by me Lesvos, is waiting in Athens to hear his asylum application.

Al-Mandil arrived at Moria Camp in Greece on April 29, 2019. Behind him was war and after crossing the Turkish border, months of fear, experiences of racism and hatred. We talked to him about his expectations, journee and his time in Moria.

SBML: In Germany there is a song “At 17 you still have dreams” – do you remember your life at that time?

Al-Mandil: Yes, of course. But I don’t want to remember. I lost family members and friends in the war. When the war started I was 20 years old and there began a bloody time. It’s unbelievable how much blood and violence you can endure, the streets were full of it. Planes dropped bombs, snipers and bullets from all sides and executions in the street. Live life in peace, that was the dream.

SBML: Did you already know where you are going?

Al-Mandil: Canada has always been my dream. But I heard early that it was difficult. So I choose Europe, even if it was clear that it would take a long time.

SBML: How was the start, was it difficult to leave the country?

Al-Mandil: I had already dealt with it, but in the end I had to flee from IS. They arrested me for not praying, they tortured me and held me for 2 months and 10 days. When I was released it was clear that I was leaving the country.

SBML: How was arriving and living in Turkey? Syrians were doing comparatively well there for a long time – how did you experience that?

Al-Mandil: In the beginning it felt good to be in a country without war. No bombs. No bodies on the streets. But after a while it got difficult, I experienced racism and hatred. I lived in fear and just wanted to go on and away. I’ve tried a lot and at some point it worked.

SBML: Can you still remember how you felt when you were standing on the Turkish coast and Greece, Europe, was almost reachable?

Al-Mandil: I had mixed feelings: sadness, joy, anger, fear. I just cried, that relaxed me a little.

SBML: Was it difficult to organize the crossing?

Al-Mandil: The waiting was grueling, plus the fear of getting caught and ending up in prison. We searched for a long time until we found someone who seemed trustworthy. It took me several tries, some kept the money, some only half, the last attempt was successful and cost me $ 900.

SBML: What happened next?

Al-Mandil: When we reached Greek waters, the coast guard spotted us and took us to Lesbos. The police met us there and after four hours they took us to Moria. That was a shock! So many people! I got into conversation with some of them and asked how long they had been there. Some for a few months, but some for years. For years!! That´s not fair, I didn’t know that before.

After two months it was clear that I would have to stay longer too. It was hopeless. We lived together in a crowded camp and yet everyone was alone. People go to bed and nobody sleeps comfortable. There was great fear and anxity in the camp, you can’t trust anyone, everyone is alone.

SBML: You spent a winter at Moria Camp in unworthy conditions. Were there any bright spots in this hell?

Al-Mandil: The winter was cold. I didn’t have warm clothes, but some organizations helped us. was leaking water everywhere!  I was sitting outside.  The tent was very old and insects and rodents were also living with us.  It was not easy but they also needed safety and warmth, I feel.

But I did see hope. I thank the many volunteers who listened and showed interest in us. They talked about their homeland and gave us a smile.

SBML: In spring you became a volunteer yourself. As a member of the Moria Corona Awareness Team MCAT you were out in the camp to inform people how to deal with Covid19 and were discovered as a photographer. How was it for you?

Al-Mandil: I took my first pictures on my smartphone. Also the campaign image. After a few photos were published in magazines, And people would call me and tell me that my photos are beautiful. Including photographers! I increased my self-confidence. I began to feel that I could build my future from anywhere. No limitation. I could be better off even while sitting and waiting. But it was time to get out of Moria; I was on the ship to Athens with mixed feelings. Tears with a smile. Farewell to my friends.

My lawyer says it could take up to two years for my asylum application to be decided. I want to go to Holland and get married, but the Greeks don’t give me papers. But everyone is waiting here.

But I’m holding onto my dream: I want a place where I can live freely and safely.

SBML: Thank you!

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ehrig.




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