Lesvos Update

07/11/2015

Refugee arrivals haven’t stopped for one single day. The combined efforts of the Greek coast guard and Frontex have once more not been able (against all odds – rough weather and worn-out dinghies and boats) to deter more deaths in the Aegean. Another shipwreck (4/11/2015) near Sykamia claimed five lives (three children and two adult men) and that’s only as far as the Lesvos region is considered. The reception of refugees on the island is depending solely on the efforts of locals and NGOs. The situation in the camp (hot-spot) of Moria remains dreadful while thousand of refugees having to sleep on the streets around the harbour under heavy rain and low temperatures.

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In Mytilene, Saturday 31/10/2015 a comparatively massive demonstration was organized in the face of the recent death toll. The demonstration occupied the main street of the city and joined refugee groups waiting for the boat to Athens at the harbor. Demonstrators, both locals and refugees stood in unison in favour for safe and legal passage for those that seek to flee from war and poverty. A key point of the demonstration was the imperative need for the demolition of the fence, set up by the previous government, in Evros, that closed off a relatively safe land passage for the refugees.

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The arrival of the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz in Lesvos was met with various demonstrations and the occupation of public buildings -such as the Old Mayor Office. The mayor of the island, Spyros Galinos had just before the arrival proclaimed a three-day mourning and arranged for a common Orthodox and Islamic prayer in honour of the dead in front of the Asia-Minor “Mother Refugee” statue in Epano Skala – an initiative with extremely condensed pro-tolerance and peace symbolisms.

George Tyrikos-Ergas

 

UnBAREable life in the camps of Messina – Sicily

Update – 01 November

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Dr. Giuliana Sano

Messina, a city of 250.000 inhabitants located in the northeastern littoral of Sicily, has become one of the most discussed cities by the national media in the last days. A huge landslip has destroyed the water pipeline which supplies the city while continuing rainfall floods the region. Inadequate emergency policies make local people suffer and exacerbate the living conditions of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers that are forced to live in camps. Portrayed in this picture is the camp of Pala Nebiolo, one of the three camps put in place by the Ministry of Interior in Messina. A university baseball camp, was fasts transformed into ‘a reception centre’ for migrants when the first group of asylum seekers arrived in the October 2013. The Pala Nebiolo is supposed to be a temporary structure put in place to meet the demands of the “migrant emergency”. The camp hosts 30 tents that provide shelter to at least 250 persons. There are six bathrooms overall and a big refectory positioned among the tents. The space is at the mercy of weather conditions, both in the summer and in the winter time. The high temperatures of the summer make the tents suffocating, while in the winter the rain floods the tents making the cold unbearable. The health conditions produced by the exposure of asylum seekers to the elements of nature has become one of the most urgent issue raised by the migrants themselves, as well by the local associations and by activists who advocate the rights of migrants. Two long years have passed from when this camp came to exist, several protests and legal denounces have taken place, but the camp continues to be there, ready to ‘host’ more asylum seekers and migrants/refugees who arrive daily. .

Weekly Report – Lesvos 31 October

Dr. George Tyrikos-Ergas

Strong Northern winds up to 8B in the Aegean sea have not hindered refugees from reaching the shores of Lesvos island, especially in Sykamia and Eftalou. Yet the weather conditions -close to 5C degrees at night and the strong winds- have taken their horrible toll: three shipwrecks (28,29 and 30 of Oct. close to Lesvos, Kalymnos and Rhodes islands) claimed 39 lives, most of them children.

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The fall has come and the fear of many volunteers has been proven valid. The smuggling network from Turkey does not hesitate to force refugees into the inflated dinghies even when it is obvious that seas are too rough. Talking with Syrians at Sykamia makes it evident that they have an extremely vague idea as to the means of their passage to Europe, what expects them in open waters, how to stir the boat, or how to protect themselves. The smugglers claim that nothing much can happen and that the very number of casualties compared to the great numbers of refugees that made the trip safely proves exactly their point. Yet, there are many refugees –especially those who utilize internet sources to prepare or continue their journey – that hesitate. Their hesitation leads them to what is presented as ‘safer means of passage’, namely old wooden or plastic boats (which of course cost considerably more). These vessels might seem safer but in reality they pose a worse danger yet. Smugglers fit more refugees in a single boat thus maximizing profit but also the risk for a shipwreck. The shipwrecks in Lesvos and Kalymnos have a common characteristic: they happened to the ‘safer type’ of boats all of which travelled in rough weather. Those supposedly ‘safer boats’ are full of structural defaults and sold to smugglers by locals at a fraction of their price.

The photo depicts such a boat (‘catamaran’ type) that barely made it to Sykamia this week. Midway, it filled with water and leaned on one side causing panic to the refugees on board. 120 refugees barely made it this time. Volunteers helped them disembark almost 100 meters before reaching the shore.