By Khanh Kim Vu
Twice a day, Ludovic Ikoko Mpeti takes the bus between Moria, an infamous refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, and Mosaik, a nonprofit that offers free classes. A native of the Congo, he takes all three courses offered at the camp: Greek, English, and information technology. When not in class, Mpeti can be found doing his homework in an unoccupied classroom, pen in one hand and phone in the other, ready to look up new words. “Studying, it’s my life. I love learning,” Mpeti said in perfectly enunciated French. However, like many other migrants who have interrupted their education to find safety across borders, Mpeti struggles to find intellectual stimulation in Moria, a place ridden with physical hardship.
Mpeti’s father was a middle school teacher who loved reading and writing poems. He instilled in Mpeti a passion for science as well as an appreciation of literature. Mpeti’s favorite book is Les Hauts et les bas by Zamenga Batukezanga, a famous Congolese author who worked at Université de Kinshasa, where Mpeti completed his bachelor’s degree in industrial economics in 2015. After graduation, Mpeti worked for a bank in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. In August 2017, during a two-day general strike in Congo to push for President Joseph Kabila’s resignation, the police killed more than 10 people. Mpeti, who was nearby, was one of more than 100 people arrested. He said he lost his job and received death threats from the police. He moved to the suburbs to escape political violence, and volunteered to help a church with administration and translation. That was how he met a minister who helped him escape to Greece in January. He has lived in Moria ever since.
“I eat, I sleep, that’s how I pass my life,” Mpeti said of his first three months on European soil. In March, he discovered Mosaik and started taking classes to avoid boredom, arriving in the morning and staying until it closed. Migrants on Lesbos have a range of educational backgrounds, he said, so the courses are not university-level and do not always pique his intellectual curiosity. Mpeti’s goal is to become a professor, but that dream is unattainable unless Europe accepts his asylum application. “You see your future go up in flames,” he said.
Muhammad, a migrant from Pakistan who refused to agree to have his full name published, experienced similar difficulty in continuing his education. He was enrolled in an electrical engineering master’s program before leaving his native country in 2016. A recipient of many scholarships, he said he felt grateful for his education opportunities and, at 18, founded an organization to financially support the schooling of poor Christian students, who were an underprivileged minority in his community. Some local residents did not like his effort to bridge religious differences, he said, and threatened his life. A friend advised him to head to Europe to complete his studies while things calmed at home. Muhammad eventually found himself at Moria in April 2016, not quite the Europe he had in mind.
Muhammad said he knew many languages, including Urdu, Hindi, English, Punjabi, Arabic, Farsi and Greek. So at the camp, Muhummad volunteered to translate for charities, doctors and refugees. “Two years and a few months and I’m still waiting for my interview” for asylum, he said with a sigh.
Muhammad also volunteers at Khora, a community center for migrants. He serves snacks at the cafe, prepares meals in the kitchen, translates documents for the lawyers, hands out clothes in the free shop and plays soccer with kids. Although charity work is his ultimate life goal, he first wants to complete his studies. Unlike Mpeti, Muhammad does not need the language classes offered by nonprofits, and Greek colleges will admit only students who have been granted asylum. So Muhammad said he has no way of continuing his education.
With a brown satchel on one shoulder, he looks like a college student. He makes simple clothing look fashionable with ease and confidence, pants rolled up and hair neatly combed to the side. A loose white button-down and light blue pants fail to disguise his small frame.
Mpeti and Muhammad each think about eventually returning home.
“I didn’t come here to stay all my life,” Mohammad said. “Can you imagine? Who can live without their family for so many years?”