Greece’s forgotten crisis

IBT — The Greek island of Lesvos is facing a humanitarian crisis with debt-ridden authorities unable to cope with an unprecedented influx of Syrian and Afghan refugees from Turkey.

Aid workers on the island have described to IBTimes UK the “shocking and unimaginable” scenes at the hosting camps and along the route, with more than 3,000 asylum seekers with scarce or no access to water or sanitation facilities.

“I have worked in emergency teams for the past 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Kirk Day, the International Rescue Committee’s local team leader said.

“The situation is particularly dire at the transit Kara Tepe Camp where until a few days ago only five toilets and two showers were operational. As a result, people were washing themselves at drinking water points, making them insanitary, and defecating out in the open. I couldn’t think when it was the last time I saw a similar situation.”

Around 1,000 refugees arrive on the shores of Lesvos daily, of which 60% are from Syria and 30% from Afghanistan.

After they come ashore on the north of the island, at the closest point to Turkey, the refugees have to walk around 40km (25 miles) to reach Kara Tepe because of a Greek anti-smugglers law making it illegal to provide transport for migrants.

The mayor of Lesbos, Spryos Galinos, said his hands are tied because it is illegal for him to transport people across the island. In an interview to the Mail Online in June, he said “every day it’s like a new village is born”.

It has been estimated that more than 25,000 people arrived on the island, which has a population of about 90,000 people, since the start of 2015.

“If the flow doesn’t stop, we can’t cope. I’m making efforts [but] I create a centre for 400 people, and then 700 arrive in one day,” he told the Mail.

The reality on the ground is that Greek officials are working in a difficult environment and under strict austerity measures and cuts, which have significantly reduced the ability to cope with the crisis.

“In some days, there’s no food available to feed people in the camps because the government doesn’t have the money to pay the courier,” Day said.

Day and other activists have stressed the “selflessness, dedication and generosity” of the Greek community, made of local activists but also common people, in helping the refugees.