Tensions grow inside and outside Greece's Moria refugee camp
LESBOS, GREECE - As migrants fleeing their war-torn homelands flood into the crowded Moria refugee camp in Greece every day, the residents of a nearby village of the same name have become increasingly on edge.
The residents have reported break-ins, cases of arson, and animals killed for food in the village of Moria – located only a short distance from the country’s biggest refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.
“You have to be careful. You must have a gun. You must have a knife to protect your family, to protect your property,” resident Vassilis Batzakas told CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian during her recent trip to the camp and its surrounding areas.
The residents say the presence of the refugees is not the problem, it's the fact that the camp is uncontrollably overcrowded.
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Refugees and migrants – predominately from Afghanistan, but also from 57 other nations – have the ability to come and go from the camp and often wander into neighbouring areas untouched by the horrors inside.
About 7,500 people currently live in the camp, but the numbers fluctuate.
Although there are plenty of complaints about the island’s newest inhabitants from those living near the camp, many in Lesbos have expressed sympathy for the asylum seekers.
Among them was a Greek coast guard captain named Kyriakos Papadopoulos who was personally responsible for saving the lives of 5,000 migrants. The 44-year-old captain died recently from a heart attack.
Papadopoulos personified the compassion and help extended to migrants on Lesbos, and he received awards from the Greek government for his life-saving work.
“For us, he’s a hero,” Batzakas said.
The sympathy for the asylum seekers is well deserved, according to anyone familiar with the camp’s dire situation.
A recent report by the International Rescue Committee described some of the “unacceptable” conditions, including overcrowding which has led to long line ups for washrooms, food and water. For example, 84 people are expected to share one shower and 72 people are forced to share one toilet, according to the report.
The camp – designed for just 3,100 people – is overcome with garbage, stagnant water, and broken sewage pipes causing waste to leak into the shabby tents and shipping containers the asylum seekers call home.
Rising tensions between camp residents competing for limited resources have culminated in violent fights and sexual assaults.
The situation has reached its boiling point, with many asylum seekers resorting to suicide inside the camp. The IRC, who treats some of the camp’s residents for severe mental health conditions, found that 60 per cent of their clients who are living in Moria have considered attempting suicide while an alarming 30 per cent have actually tried it.
It’s so desperate that some of the refugees and migrants awaiting asylum in Europe have told aid workers that life in their respective home countries, where they witnessed torture, bombings, and murder, was preferable to what they experience in Moria.
Along with waiting in long queues for daily essentials, some asylum seekers have found other means to pass the time.
One Iraqi refugee said that boredom, particularly among young men, has driven some residents to buy and sell drugs within the camp.
“They can't do anything. They can't work. They can't spend the time in a good way. They use the drugs,” Tooshy Ibrahim explained.
Ibrahim himself takes drugs – he says they come from Athens – to make his life of perpetual waiting more tolerable.
“I can’t live in the real situation here,” he said.
As the population of the camp continues to grow with only an inadequate makeshift site beside it to accommodate the latest arrivals, there appears to be no end in sight for the Moria refugee camp – a transit camp intended only to be a quick stop over of only two or three days for migrants en route to Europe.
“I think the worst thing indeed, is that we are on European soil, this shouldn’t be happening here,” said Martha Roussou, a senior advocacy officer with the International Rescue Committee.
“These are people fleeing danger and seeking protection in Europe and they actually sometimes arrive in a place that is more dangerous than the one they fled.”