After more than a week living on the streets, thousands of refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos are being herded into a new, temporary camp.
But living conditions are dire—and many refugees still don’t know their future due to the European Union (EU) border laws trapping them on Lesvos.
One refugee, Hamad, told Socialist Worker, “The big problem is there is no water to shower and the toilets are not very good. Everybody has to go into the sea to wash.
“There are no beds. When you enter you just get two bottles of water to drink, a blanket and a face mask.”
Some 13,000 people were forced onto the streets when the huge Moria refugee camp burned down on Tuesday of last week. The camp—one of Europe’s largest—was vastly overcrowded, and a symbol of the EU’s cruelty to refugees.
In the aftermath, hundreds of riot cops were drafted in to stop refugees from entering the island’s main town of Mytilene. They were kept penned in on the side of the road just outside the city—and attacked with teargas when they marched to demand freedom.
“Everybody has been sleeping on the road,” Hamad said. “Old people, children, families, all had to sleep on the road.”
He explained, “I was asleep last week when I heard people shouting ‘fire, fire.’ I didn’t have time to take anything with me, just my documents.
“Everybody tried to get to town but the police stopped the majority of us. So we moved to stay outside a supermarket but the police blocked that place as well.”
Since then the Greek government left it to the refugees to look after themselves—without providing food, water or shelter. Refugees organised alongside NGOs to coordinate aid, cleaning and coronavirus safety advice.
Many were reluctant to enter the new, hastily constructed temporary camp on a Greek military site. They all want to be allowed off the island and to find safety in mainland Europe.
EU border laws, designed to keep refugees out of Europe, stand in their way. The Moria camp, originally built for no more than 3,000 people, became vastly overcrowded after a deal signed between the EU, Greece and Turkey in 2015.
Under the deal, refugees arriving on Greek islands after a dangerous sea crossing from Turkey would be held and processed there. Many are deported when their applications are rejected after a wait of several months.
Four refugees have been charged in relation to the fire. But it’s the EU that is responsible for the dangerous conditions the refugees were forced to live in.
Now the Greek government has promised that Lesvos will be emptied of refugees by Easter next year. But so far other EU countries have only agreed to take a small number of children or families—leaving many refugees uncertain for their future.
“I don’t know my future,” said Hamad. “I escaped my country. I want to go to Germany, or maybe France, but I’ve been here for one year.
“Many people have been here for one year, two years. And many people have their interviews rejected. Everybody is tired. We want other countries to come and help us.
“Everybody is tired. Nobody wants to live in this camp again. This camp is like a prison.”