Overview of the Refugee Crisis in Lesvos
The local population of the island of Lesvos is about 85,000. In September of 2015, migrants and asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq began arriving on the shores of Lesvos. “Over the course of 2015, the island hosted more than a half a million migrants and asylum seekers. This represents about 59% of all asylum seekers and migrants who transited through Greece that year on route to destinations in northern Europe.” (Source: The Migration Policy Institute www.migrationpolicy.org/article/refugee-flows-lesvos-evolution-humanitarian-response)
The influx of refugees and migrants decreased after the European Union and Turkey signed an agreement in March 2016 to curb the influx of refugees entering Europe. Under the agreement, asylum seekers who take clandestine routes to Greece from Turkey were to be sent back. Since the agreement was signed, arrivals on Lesvos and other Greek islands averaged 2500 a month in 2017, compared with the 10,000 who made landfall on Lesvos in just one day during the height of the crisis in October 2015. (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/29/world/europe/greece-lesbos-migrant-crisis-moria.html)
Despite the agreement, the number of people sent back to Turkey has decreased to 20-30 individuals per month as asylum seekers appeal rejections and rights groups challenge the legality of turning away those in legitimate need of protection. Meanwhile, the number of refugees crossing the Straits from Turkey is climbing again. As a result, the refugee population on Lesvos continues to grow, contributing to the overcrowding in the refugee camps. Over 10,000 people are living in camps on the island with the majority of them in Moria camp. Moria refugee camp is run by the Greek state but largely financed by the European Union. It accommodates nearly 8000 in a camp that was built to accommodate 2500. Kara Tepe Camp is managed by an organization affiliated with the Municipality of Lesvos and supported by the NGO community. It houses women, children and families. Lesvos Solidarity, a Greek NGO, manages Pikpa camp where the most vulnerable of refugees live. Pikpa has been internationally recognized as a model for providing humane and dignified assistance to refugees. The Director of the Camp, Efi Latsoudi, was named as one of two winners of the 2016 Nanssen Refugee award for her tireless work for refugees. (Source: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/stories/2016/9/57bafd3d4/help-vulnerable-lesvos-wins-efi-latsoudi-2016-nansen-award.html)
The Greek government has stated that it will speed up the processing of asylum claims by streamlining procedures and hiring additional staff and translators. But the arrivals on Lesvos and other islands are far outpacing the number of people being transported to the mainland on compassionate grounds or because their asylum applications have been approved. (Source:
The nurse volunteering at DocMobil, one of the NGOs visited, reported that the most pervasive medical issue she sees among the refugee population is PTSD. This stems not only from the traumatic voyage from their homelands, but from the conditions at the camp and depression due to the length of time they have lived with uncertainty and fear. Her observations are echoed in an 8/13/19 Facebook post from Medical Volunteers International which gives a vivid picture of conditions on Lesvos today.
For up-to-date information about the latest European developments in the areas of asylum and refugee protection see check www.ecre.org
ECRE is a pan-European alliance of 90 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.