At the moment, just over 16,000 people are stranded on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros. Here is a brief overview of the current situation on the three largest Aegean islands Lesbos, Samos and Chios. All figures come from the official statistics of the Greek Ministry of Migration, which you can see here.
The situation on Lesvos has remained almost unchanged since the fire in September 2020. The protection seekers who previously lived in Moria were forced into the new camp. There they were denied access to food and medical care for days. A few hundred people still live scattered across the island not far from the capital Mytilini in the forest. They refuse to go back to a camp after being forced to live in the squalor of old Moria for years in some cases. In the weeks following the fire, many protection seekers with recognised refugee status were gradually transferred to Athens. In the meantime, several hundred were also taken in by other EU member states and transferred there. At the moment, around 6500 people are living in the new camp on Lesbos. In addition, around 1500 other people seeking protection are living in other accommodation on the island.
The situation of the people in the new camp is catastrophic. There is still not a single shower, at the moment – months after occupation – the first about 50 showers are installed, which are also called "bucket showers". As before, there is not a single permanent toilet, only porta-potties. Further, there is not a single sink. There is no running water, only an emergency supply with mobile water tanks from the UNHCR.
Contagious diseases are one of the biggest problems of the residents of the new camp. Covid-19 has still not broken out to the extent feared. But the diseases that were already present in the old Moria are back, including scabies. There are hardly any people who are not affected by them. Medical care is almost non-existent, children play in the mud with scratched arms and legs. Wounds cannot be treated and become infected. There is hardly any medical staff for the new camp.
People get food twice a day at the moment. A meager breakfast (mostly 2-3 pieces of fruit and 1 dry roll) and another meal. Since the renewed complete lockdown of the camp, the rations have been slightly increased. Before, the shelter seekers could at least feed themselves a little bit at Lidl next door.
Underground with lead poisoning
The new camp was built without preparations on a former firing range of the Greek army. Aid organisations and politicians warned as early as September that the site was not suitable for housing people for this reason. Now, following public pressure, the Greek government has ordered an investigation into the soil. Elevated soil lead levels were found as expected. According to the ministry, twelve samples were taken, one of which was above the international limit. However, according to the WHO, lead contamination can never be said to be harmless to humans. The tests were completed on December 08, 2020 and had been available to the ministry since then. As a protective measure, it is planned to fill up new layers of earth. It is unclear whether moving earth is not even more dangerous in the end. In any case, the fact is that the Greek government has deliberately exposed people to the danger of lead poisoning.
As every year, winter in the Aegean is marked by severe storms. Almost every week the responsible ministry issues a storm warning for the islands. Due to its location on a headland with two open sides to the sea, the new camp on Lesbos is defenceless against the wind and rain. Tents are flooded and torn away, and the gravel ground is riddled with huge puddles of water for days. In one of the nights, a whole row of chemical toilets toppled over.
The situation on Samos is no less dire. Here, according to official figures, around 4000 people live on the island, 3800 in the official camp not far from the capital Vathy. In fact the camp was built for a capacity of 648 people. The rest live in the woods around the camp. Most people on Samos do not live in the containers of the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) but in tents and self-built shelters.
The camp on Samos not only has a problem with overcrowding and basic care, but also poses great challenges in everyday life for people with special needs. The underground is actually not accessible with wheelchairs, walking aids, etc.. In addition, the earthquake in the Aegean Sea and the fire last week have left even more damage.
There are fixed sanitary facilities only in the fortified part, for the rest there are chemical toilets available, which are mostly actually unusable. Within the "wild" part there are very many snakes and mice. There is water supply, but it is not suitable for drinking, but is used for washing by those seeking shelter with the help of bottles. Drinking water and food rations are given out by the military, usually people queue for a long time.
The camp has always had exit restrictions between 7pm and 7am, and since Corona it has been in lockdown. This means that those seeking protection are only allowed out with a special permit. The local hospital is no longer accepting refugees, even with appointments as previously possible. Emergency medical aid is only provided by one doctor and two nurses.
There are probably a large number of people who either have a recognized protection status or have received a second refusal, but continue to live in Vial because they have nowhere else to go. It is estimated that there are currently 4500 people in and around the Vial camp. They try to live off the leftovers from the food distribution and queue at the end of the line.
A company cleans the toilets daily, volunteers clean them a second time, which is obviously necessary. Medical care is provided by a doctor and a Spanish NGO. Only in a few tents there is electricity. A big problem is that the chemical toilets, which were set up for the unpaved part, have been stolen by people seeking shelter, disassembled and misused or used themselves. Sanitation has thus become even more catastrophic.
Apart from the fact that the positive cases are housed together in containers, there are no Corona protections whatsoever. The people are completely on their own.