The current refugee crisis is the worst since World War II. In 2016 alone, over 65 million people became refugees: that is nearly 170% of the entire population of Poland. Many of these refugees are children who were born in conflict zones and have never experienced anything but violence, war or life in a refugee camp.
There are three ways of looking at the current refugee crisis: from a humanitarian perspective, one of national security and from an economic perspective.
Looking at the crisis from a humanitarian perspective, we should help refugees find shelter, provide them with food, clean water and clothing so that they can survive the difficult period until they return to their homeland or resettle in another safe country. The right to life is a fundamental human right, protected by international law.
From the point of view of national security, countries receiving refugees should cooperate with the international community in order to prevent uncontrolled border crossings by those who do not leave their countries for economic reasons or because of any threat, and who themselves pose a terrorist threat to citizens of European countries. It should be stressed that they are also a threat to the refugees themselves, who are often themselves a target of their attacks.
The refugee crisis in Greece has obviously had a significant economic impact on its people and economy. The Greek government has been forced to spend over €1 billion a year on housing for refugees and migrants alone. It is worth a reminder that in 2010 Greece faced an economic crisis that led to thousands of people losing their jobs. The government had to make cuts in public services and social benefits, which led to citizens losing their jobs and financial flow. Under these conditions, the additional financial burden of the refugee crisis is almost too much to handle.
Who are the refugees and from what are they fleeing?
Refugees are people who have left their country to seek protection in another country. Refugees are also known as asylum seekers, displaced persons or stateless persons.
Refugees leave their countries for various reasons, such as poverty, natural disasters, persecution or violence. They may be fleeing civil war and other forms of violence: persecution based on race, religion or nationality. They may be victims of terrorism or may be driven from their homes by climate change and extreme weather events.
Where do the refugees on the Greek islands come from?
In 2015, a record number of refugees and migrants, 1.1 million, crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe. They were from countries all over the world, but most of them came from Syria (54%), Afghanistan (19%) and Iraq (11%). These refugees are fleeing extreme poverty, war, ethnic violence or religious persecution.
How the refugees reach the island of Lesbos:
Fleeing their homes in search of a better future, refugees risk their lives to reach the island of Lesbos. The journey is usually made by sea from Turkey and can take up to four hours. Those who can afford it can pay for transport by speedboat and arrive here in just two hours.
However, many refugees do not have any savings. They use rubber dinghies and inflatable rafts, which are often overloaded and prone to sinking. It is estimated that 2 000 to 3 000 people a year die by drowning trying to cross from Turkey to Greece. This is the equivalent of one person dying every 40 minutes over a six-month period.
What is the Greeks’ opinion about the refugee situation in Lesbos?
The opinions of Lesbos residents on the refugee situation are not equivocal. Although many people actively collect donations or support refugees through charity fundraisers, some Greeks are critical of the impact of refugees on the islands’ economy.
The Home for All organization, which was founded by Katerina and Nikos and is supported by the Good Factory, provides assistance to refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places in the Middle East and Africa. They provide refugees with food and shelter, as well as employment opportunities in a newly established olive oil mill or in the fields of the Homeland project.
Every morning, Katerina, Nikos and their team of volunteers cook breakfast and lunch for the refugees in camp Moria 2.0, which they then distribute in a Good Factory van directly to the families’ tents.
Living in camp Moria 2.0 in Lesbos through the eyes of the refugees:
The question of whether refugees feel safe in camp Moria 2.0 is complex. On the one hand, refugees are given shelter and food, but on the other hand they are also subject to harassment and violence from other migrants who have come to Europe not necessarily for the same reasons.
Moreover, most of the refugees in Camp Moria are children, women or elderly people with special needs, including safety. They are definitely more susceptible to attack or exploitation, especially in the absence of a permanent security presence in the camp.
Camp Moria 2.0 is overcrowded and poses a huge health risk to refugees due to the dire sanitary conditions, which can lead to diseases such as dysentery, cholera and tuberculosis. There is a lack of medical and psychological support, which aggravates the spiral of helplessness and passivity among the refugees. The Good Factory strives not only to provide medical or material aid, but also to establish genuine relationships with refugees: we personally visit them in their tents and win the trust of entire families day after day.
What is the future of the refugees from camp Moria 2.0?
The future of refugees in Lesbos and on the other Greek islands after leaving Camp Moria 2.0 is uncertain. Many refugees who have been living there for years repeatedly ask for asylum, which sometimes seems to be granted by random chance. Families are separated and it also happens that single mothers with four children are not granted asylum. Asylum itself is no guarantee of safety, as many refugees are relocated to Athens without any plan for their integration and without any job opportunities. Some refugees hope to return soon to their home countries to find work, but are deterred from doing so by the fear of armed conflicts which threaten their lives.
Charities fear that refugees will soon be moved from camp Moria 2.0 to camps with even worse conditions, leading to more mental and physical health problems than hitherto.