Lesvos, among those who are suspended

The local partner of the project Snapshots from the Borders, Eloris Foundation, organized a field visit to the island of Lesvos. The foundation, in the partnership, represents the North Aegean Region which includes, in addition to Lesvos, Chios, Psara, Oinousses, Ikaria, Fournoi, Korseon, Lemnos, Agios Efstratios and Samos.

Mary Konstantoglou, the director of Eloris, with the communication and European projects manager Ralou Tatari and the financial manager for European projects, Dimitris Lamprou, led the delegation in the visit of the city of Mytilene and the island of Lesvos.

On the first day, at the headquarters of the foundation, a meeting was held between the delegation and the vice-governor of the North Aegean Region, Dimitris Koursoubas, where it was possible to have a comparison on the practices of border territories, between the Italian model (with the quarantine ships and the hotspot of Lampedusa in particular) and the Greek one still linked to the idea – at least on the islands – to the model of the camps.

The delegation was then received at the UNHCR headquarters on the island. Theodoros Alexellis, Assistant Liasion Officer, talked about how the numbers of arrivals on the island, in the last two years, have undergone an important decrease.

“In Lesvos, from 2015 to 2016, 650,000 people arrived, compared to the one million people who arrived in the whole of Greece during the same period. At the moment, 3500 people are on the island, a small part of them is housed in some private apartments with the support of UNHCR and solidarity associations, based on rankings drawn up with respect to vulnerability criteria. The others are located in the temporary center that arose after the fire of the Moria camp in 2020. In general, the government directive is to have a single camp for each of the large Aegean islands and the model will be that of the newly built island of Samos. If we think about the housing conditions at the time of Moria, surely within that camp (which should be ready in September 2022, but work is delayed) there will be better housing conditions, although the level of control will be maximum. One can argue about the camp model in general, but certainly the violence of March 2020 – when up to 20,000 people were on the island – against migrants and aid workers and the poor security conditions for migrants and locals should never occur again. The new camp, which will have a maximum capacity of 5,000 people, will have a very remote location on the island, but efforts will be made to ensure connections. For us at UNHCR, it is fundamental to guarantee access to asylum requests and a form of pre-integration: today the time required to analyze applications has greatly improved, but there is still a lot of work to be done”.

Regarding the reason why the number of arrivals has decreased, Alexellis believes that it is the sum of different factors, including increased controls by Turkey and also illegal rejections on which the UN agency continues to monitor.

The visit to the temporary camp, located near the city center, took place the next day. A camp official took the Snapshots from the Borders delegation on a tour of the facility, which is divided into three zones: yellow, blue and red. In the center of the facility is the Covid zone, for the quarantine of new arrivals and the eventual hospitalization of people who test positive. An area is for women alone or with children, one for single men and one for families. The conditions of the camp, which has containers but still many tents, is made difficult by the weather conditions. One tent, in the previous days, had caught fire due to the occupants’ attempt to warm themselves. There is no fence, and the camp overlooks the sea, implying risks for the children. The structure, moreover, stands on an old military polygon and on the reclamation of the site have not been provided sufficient guarantees. The activities in the center, entrusted to NGOs that are guests and not linked to a protocol of activities, are many, at least as expected, but the facilities – especially schools – seem to be stopped and some lack electricity, although the camp has been working for a year. Toilets are far from the tents, an element that makes life difficult for some guests.

The visit to the old camp of Moria, which burned down in September 2020, leaves a feeling of bitterness: the structures reduced to rubble, the olive trees that surrounded the former military base incinerated, piles of barbed wire and objects belonging to the people who lived there are still there on the ground to remind everyone what happened.

On the waterfront, in front of Turkey, is the statue of the ‘refugee mother’, a reminder of the 1922 population exchange between Turkey and Greece, when entire families were deported across the border. Today’s refugees are like yesterday’s, but history sometimes has no memory.


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