Before getting to experience the effects of the refugee crisis on Lesvos from our own eyes, I thought a little research on what one can find in the media about the refugee crisis in Lesvos was essential.
When I typed ‘Lesvos refugees’ into Google most of the first results that popped up were links to different local organizations working on relieving the crisis. But what is the situation actually like? What are the refugees’ conditions there? How are they treated on the island? How does their presence affect Lesvos’ locals?
According to Al Jeezera news there are still currently 5,000 refugees on Lesvos. The numbers of refugees has decreased since 2016, because of an agreement between Turkey and Europe on preventing refugees to come to Europe and the closing of the Balkans route. Nonetheless, Moria camp is still open and active. Furthermore, as the relationships between Turkey and Europe are becoming more and more tensed due to Erdogan’s constitutional changes that Europe strongly disagrees with in terms of its violation of human rights, this agreement could be put back into question. Making Lesvos one of the first points of impact in case of a change in the diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey.
In addition, Greece experienced an extremely tough winter with snow and temperature reaching as low as -18 degrees Celicus in some islands. Thus, the people of Lesvos were taken by surprised by these extreme conditions. Videos and pictures were quickly leaked on the web showing the terrible conditions in which refugees were left, sleeping in shabby tents covered in snow. Now that the sun and the warm temperatures are back the refugees’ situation has improved. Nonetheless, the lack of reactivity from the Greek authorities in these situations has left the local organizations and the refugees themselves feeling vulnerable and frustrated, to say the least.
Indeed, from what I have gathered online it appears the Greek government and the local authorities have sometimes been reluctant to help refugees and has sometimes favored international tourism to the refugee causes, in terms of access to accommodation for example. Nonetheless, the Mayor of Lampedusa was awarded the Olof Palm Prize (a prize awarded for work against racism) to congratulate his efforts to relieve the crisis. Therefore, the information about the willingness of the local authorities is mixed. This also applies to the locals. Indeed, the islanders of Greece were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. However, according to an article from the Guardian, the locals have different opinions on the effect of the refugee crisis on the island. Some have argued that this arrival of refugees has had a devastating affect on the usual international touristic flow, which many locals rely on as their main source of income. Others defend that although there is less international tourism, the flow of migrants and their strong demand for accommodations, accompanied by the local and international organizations’ many volunteers has helped to keep the hospitality business busy. Some local businesses even defend that they have had even more activity that before the refugee crisis even started. Whatever, the opinion, one thing is for certain the refugee crisis has strongly impacted the usual landscape of Lesvos. Nonetheless keeping in mind that Lesvos has always been an island designed around population movements, from its touristic periods nowadays to its different historical changes in the past, it will always remain a crossing point.
It will soon be time to build our own understanding of the effects of the refugee crisis on Lesvos and experience the reality of the refugees’ situation on the island.
You can find out more here: