Hell on Earth:
Small Greek Island Becomes Microcosm of Europe's Migrant Crisis
The Greek island of Lesbos has become a giant migrant holding center, with arrivals at the Moria migrant camp facing bleak living conditions, disease, the threat of violence and bureaucratic red tape. Sputnik traveled to Lesbos to speak to officials, residents and migrants themselves in this telling microcosm of a much broader European problem.
Arriving at the reception center at the Moria migrant camp, situated the eastern side of Lesbos Island, one is faced with a dismal picture: hundreds of makeshift tents, trash bins and piles of garbage extending into a large expanse of olive groves beyond the boundaries of the camp. Thousands are struck here as an overwhelmed Athens struggles to cope amid dwindling assistance from Brussels.
Limbo Island
According to UN figures, as of early September 2018, a total of 18,400 migrants were situated in the Aegean Islands. 9,500 of them are based on Lesbos, with the vast majority, 8,789, held at the Moria camp – which was initially designed to hold only 3,300.
The flow of migrants to Greece from Asia, Africa and the Middle East continues, with Lesbos facing in miniature issues which affect the rest of the country. Statistics reflect the seriousness of the problem:

Moria camp deputy director Stavros Stavridis told Sputnik he had only about 100 employees to care for these people. "Out of 100 personnel, only 25-28 are permanent employees, the rest are hired under contract. We work and make plans according to our contract. We have no idea what will happen to us once they expire," he complained.

After room at the camp ran out, migrants spread out into tent camps in the adjoining olive groves. In the shade of its trees, hundreds of tents have been set up, with the area divided into zones so that families with children do not have to live adjacent to unmarried men. Despite these measures, the groves are a source of many problems.
Grime, Crime and Insecurity: Migrants Describe Their Lives
"There's a threat. There's a threat everywhere," Iraqi asylum seeker Ridha Hamad Issa said, speaking to Sputnik about life in the olive grove tent city. "I told the police to put cameras everywhere but they do not care. … If you are just watching us, stealing each other, and killing each other, where is the humanity?" he pleaded. Issa had his passport stolen and was asked to pay a ransom to get it back. Drug trafficking is rampant, he said.
Rehmat Ullah Khan and his wife Rubab Mirza came to Moria three months ago with their eight-month-old son. "The situation of Moria is getting worse and worse," Rehmat said, pointing to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, clean water, and food, with residents spending between 30 minutes and several hours to use the shower or receive meals. Lack of access to medicine is another major problem, he said, saying that his son was now suffering from scabies and an ear infection. The family's biggest worry is the onset of winter, when temperatures on Lesbos can reach lows approaching 0° Celsius.
More and More Arrivals, Bureaucratic Hurdles, EU Politics
Since 2013, 29,296 migrants made asylum requests on Lesbos, 11,325 of these in 2018. Meanwhile, of a total of 178,485 asylum requests made throughout the country in this time, 50,091 remain pending, with the Greek Asylum Service overwhelmed by the workload.

In an attempt to reduce the burden on Greece and other European border states, other EU countries have been asked to resettle some of the newcomers. Quotas have failed to deal with the problem, however. According to figures from early 2018, since 2015, Greece's EU partners have only committed to the resettlement of 30,836 people, with just 21,999 of them having actually
migrants made asylum requests on Lesbos since 2013
of these in 2018
asylum requests made throughout the country in this time
States in Central Europe, particularly Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, have resisted the migrant quotas idea, or rejected it entirely, taking in either no migrants at all or a symbolic few dozen.
A Crisis Measured Not Only in Money
European migrant funding assistance is another problem. According to European Commission figures, Greece has received some 1.6 billion euros between 2015 and 2018 to help it deal with its migrant problem. However, the complex bureaucratic red tape involved means this money isn't immediately accessible to camps like Moria.
Offering an example, deputy director Stavros Stavridis pointed out that a request of money for linen or a crib can take up to three months to process.

Furthermore, in the words of Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos, dealing with this issue is "not about money, but about competent policy."

"It's not just a matter of me giving you money, and you figuring out what to do. This major humanitarian crisis is not only about the money," he emphasized.
Greece cannot be left alone, and Lesbos cannot be left alone," Galinos noted. "An island in the Aegean Sea, a dot on the map, cannot deal with a global humanitarian crisis on its back." Unfortunately, he added, Brussels appears to be deliberately shifting responsibility to Lesbos.
Local Residents Hurting
The explosive refugee flows and overcrowding in the eastern Aegean Islands has affected the local economy as well. The Greek government calculated that net profit from tourism dropped by 880 million euros in 2016, with the migrant crisis issue worsening Greece's perception as a tourist destination and forcing local entrepreneurs to drop prices to try to stay afloat.
"I think we are currently experiencing the second stage of the migrant crisis," Michalis Michalakelis, the owner of a local store, told Sputnik. "All of this has had a big impact on my store. The tourist season has shortened, the damage is huge. For example, if between 2013 and 2014 we accepted 117 cruise ships, this time only one cruise ship came, from Cyprus, and even then only for a religious pilgrimage. You can see the kind of damage done to our city and our shops," she said.
Valia Barbatiotis, the owner of a bookshop, said the changes she has seen are "more social than financial. We've experienced this in our daily lives, on our own hides so to speak," she said, pointing to what she called the "degraded" and miserable conditions of life at the Moria camp.

Barbatiotis emphasized that while island residents have expressed only goodwill toward the migrants, the Moria camp must eventually be decongested: "the entire island must be decongested. There is a huge problem here."
Moria at the Heart of a Political Confrontation
In early September, the government of the North Aegean region ruled that if serious steps were not taken to address the problems at the Moria camp, the administration would proceed to close it down.
North Aegean region Governor Christiana Kalogirou told Sputnik that it comes down to a public health issue. "We are obliged to follow the law, and this decision is connected to the highest good – that of public health," she said. Asked where the migrants will be sent, the governor said this was an issue for the Ministry of Immigration Policy. "Our sole responsibility is the safeguarding of the health of the population," Kalogirou stressed, adding that "the islands' decongestion must be the first priority."

Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos says the governor's decision complements the efforts his administration has already made, "along with the desperate appeals, complaints and lawsuits by the municipality. But this result will only be possible if they implement another policy," he noted.
Lesbos's Geography Problem
Speaking to Sputnik about the situation in Moria, Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas said that its problems, and those of Greece, are part of a broader European problem. "I am not satisfied with what is happening in Europe," he said.
"70 percent of Moria's residents arrived there in the last three months," the minister said, noting that the last two weeks alone have seen nearly 1,400 more people arrivals. "We are creating another 3,000 places in addition to the 5,000 we have already created on the mainland. Second, we want to speed up the process of granting asylum. We will create mobile teams which will go to Moria and other islands to speed up this process," he said.
Meanwhile, Vitsas said, in Brussels, the debate under the Austrian presidency of the European Council has been focused on the need to strengthen state borders and attempts to reject secondary flows from countries like Greece. "On the European agenda, there are fewer and fewer references to refugees, and they are all considered economic migrants. We are talking about the redistribution of those who have a right to international protection, and the return of those who do not have this right, but the key issue is that this must be a pan-European solution," the minister noted.
Lesbos UNHRC Mission head Astrid Kastelein says there are about 9,500 migrants in Lesbos today, the highest number since March 2016. Before the EU-Turkish agreement on refugees, she said, the Greek island served as a staging area for migrants heading to the European mainland. "But now people are trapped here, waiting for Lesbos to process asylum applications," she said. The backlog, and the large size of the migrant population compared to the local population (estimated at 86,400 in 2011), has led to an increase in tensions, she noted.

Lesbos's story is the story of Europe's attempt to shift the burden of the global refugee crisis on Greece, with the Aegean Islands, serving as the gateway between the Middle East and Europe, becoming victims of their own geography.
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