UN calls for urgent evacuation of refugees from Lesbos overcrowded camp


The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has called for the urgent evacuation of families and sick people from the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos as overcrowding has reached an alarming level.

The camp has grown from a population of 5,000 last July to around 20,000, with new families arriving daily. New arrivals can no longer find space in the official area and have to build makeshift shelters in a rubbish-filled olive grove around the camp.

Over 85% of arrivals last year were refugees. The majority of them came from Afghanistan and Syria while others are from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, the DRC, and elsewhere.

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said: “More than 36,000 asylum seekers are now staying in reception centres across five islands which were originally designed for 5,400 people. We are seriously concerned about the limited access to health services at the reception centres which is aggravated by the difficult living conditions.”

“Greece has been generous and compassionate towards refugees, despite a very complex and difficult situation, and the East Aegean islands have taken on a vastly disproportionate burden and responsibility. It is critical that other regions in Greece step up their solidarity to help alleviate pressures by receiving transferred asylum seekers and opening up reception places,” said Mahecic.

“There is an urgent need for the government to speed up the implementation of its plans to move thousands of asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland,” he added.

More than 42,000 men, women and children are estimated to be on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos. Unable to leave because of a containment policy determined by the EU, they are forced to remain on the islands until their asylum requests are processed by a system both understaffed and overstretched.

Dr. Hana Pospisilova is a consultant cardiologist who regularly volunteers on Lesbos told the Guardian that she has serious concerns that the failure to treat very sick and vulnerable individuals could lead to a major public health crisis.

“I am an experienced doctor. I have seen many patients in my life, but what I saw there had me crying. I saw many children I was worried would die because they were suffering [from]malnutrition. I met a baby who smelled bad; his mother had not washed him for weeks because there was only cold water and she was worried he would die,” said Dr. Pospisilova, recounting her experience in the camp.

“There are children, between 12 and 15, living in the olive grove and they are barefoot. A lot of them have scabies and we can’t treat it because they have to wash. But they say to wash means waiting three hours and it’s risky: people have knives, and you can only have two minutes in the shower after you wait.”

“I tell them they need to discard their clothes and they say ‘I have only these clothes.’ They have had them on for seven months. I saw everyday 20 people and all 20 had a horror story.”

Doctors currently on the island have been warning that conditions are so bad lives are being put at risk on a daily basis.

The UN also warned that since July last year asylum seekers have no longer been issued with the unique number which grants them access, free of charge, to the state healthcare system. As a result, outside of emergency support, asylum seekers – including those with chronic conditions – are unable to access state-provided treatment and medication.

Last week the region’s most senior official likened the situation on Lesbos to a “powder keg ready to explode”. Kostas Moutzouris, governor of the north Aegean, said: “It’s crucial that a state of emergency is called.” (Source: the Guardian)