With its perimeter heavily guarded by a menacing wire fence, this refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is overcrowded with foreign migrants. It’s now common to see lines of refugees there, barefoot and soaking wet, having literally just come out of the sea, sad and overwhelmed.
Mario Muñoz Lozano
A retaining wall next to the other Greek islands in the face of attempts of thousands of Africans to reach European Union (EU) territory, the Plomari, Molyvos and Ereso beaches on the island have lost their appeal for tourists.
Another of the island’s main sources of income, agriculture, has also been affected. Olive trees cover 40% of Lesbos, whilst forests take up 20% of its land and is home to the world’s second largest petrified forest of sequoia tress. It’s now common to see lines of refugees there, barefoot and soaking wet, having literally just come out of the sea, sad and overwhelmed, Michalis, a 74-year-old fisherman commented to the Europa Press.
He recalls that Lesbos used to earn money through tourism, “now the main source of income is endless pain and suffering”.
Its habitants have seen visits from Pope Francis, Angelina Jolie and many other political figures and international celebrities who have gone on to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their actions.
But time has gone by. They are now forgotten after the entry into force of an agreement to return the refugees between the European Union and Turkey.
Inundated with tents only distinguishable by a number painted on their side with black spray paint and protected by international maritime patrols, the Moria refugee camp is the largest camp in Europe.
Moria refugee camp has capacity for three thousand people but it currently holds 13 thousand.
Of those, seven thousand refugees are living on the mountainside where the conditions are extremely difficult during the approaching winter period.
According to international humanitarian organisations, in Moria, people are barely surviving in overcrowded conditions and are experiencing all forms of violence, including sexual, traumas and serious mental illness.
The refugees explain that at the camp there is no escape from the foul smell of unwashed bodies, mouldy clothes, rubbish and open drains. At the start of October, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asked the Greek authorities to address the situation “urgently”.
According to the spokesperson for this UN agency in Greece, Boris Sheshirkov, the situation there is “tragic”. This was after an incident on 29 September in which a woman and a child lost their lives, followed by heavy rioting.
“We are asking for our islands to be relieved immediately and for stronger control over our borders”, the Mayor of Lesbos, Stratos Kytelis, commented to a Greek TV station.
Following the events, the Deputy Minister of Greek Civil Protection, Lefteris Okinomou, recognised that the country is going through its “worse period of migration” since the European Union (EU) and Turkey signed the agreement in 2016.
He reported that with the increase in arrivals to the Aegean islands, Greece has accommodated close to 70,000 migrants and refugees. The majority of these are Syrian, who have been fleeing their country since 2015, surviving the dangerous journey from the neighbouring Turkish coast.
The sudden increase in arrivals has put a strain on Greek-Turkish relations. Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), they are now confronted with rights to extract natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and other long-standing disputes.
One year ago, after having felt the effects of the crisis on tourism, Athens discreetly relaxed the rules to relieve overcrowding in camps and calm the spirits of the islanders.
To that effect, thousands of asylum seekers were transported to the continent, where the network of camps operated by the State has expanded.
But the conditions on the islands have continued to deteriorate and the patrols are continually incapable of stopping migrants who are trying to escape war and poverty.
International humanitarian organisations have reported, on numerous occasions, the living situation in these camps and have called for Athens to find solutions.
In an attempt to calm down its people, the Greek government reported recently that it will intensify sea patrols, it will facilitate the transfer of migrants from its islands to the continent and the construction of closed detention centres for illegal immigrants and others who do not have asylum. (PL)
(Translated by Corrine Harries – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay