As Turkish government recently opened its western borders to the European Union for the refugees and migrants, Greece keeps its borders closed shut, putting aside the asylum system, claiming to deport the ones to come and leading the asylum seekers to borders back; tension rose in the Greek island Lesbos where the refugees are welcomed by bats, police batons or blocked roads by the island residents at the shores.
A camp with 3000 people capacity, even in 2016 had 6000 asylum seekers. On March 2020, the number increased as high as 20,000 people in an island of Europe where people visit to vacate. The Moria refugee camp is called a “hot spot” and a “horrible hellhole” by the Refugee and Migrant Rights Program Director Bill Frelick. He states that the NGO facilities and volunteers are also attacked by the vehicles of mobs, even the staff is called back to Athens suspending their operations. (2)
Locals blocking the roads to the Moria refugee camp on the 1st of March, 2020 displays the discomfort whereas many new boats from Turkey continue to arrive according to the reporters of DW who are detained by the police, and said that they are not allowed to go back along with the Green Party member of European Parliament Erik Marquardt and other journalists observing the humanitarian disgrace with overcrowded unhygienic tents at the site. (1)
The island´s history with refugees are not a new incident since the island hosted refugees since 1990s mostly from Yugoslavia at the time. Currently, the refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and other places as well even though it is mentioned mostly as the Syrian refugee crisis. Moreover, Lesbos is not the only island that hosts refugees. Chios and Samos are also portraying similar images with hardships to host and integrate the asylum seekers present and more to come. Even though the refugee deal with Turkey is seen as a solution and the police is continuing to stop the newcomers on the landside, the citizens of Greece, especially the islanders are disappointed with their government. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister proposes to solve the issue by taking two distinct policy measures by implementing a tougher asylum law to open the road of sending as many comers as possible to Turkey being the first. Secondly, he wants to initiate the construction of formerly closed refugee centers on the Greek islands which faced with mild resistance movements by the island locals. (1) The opposition to the refugee centers held street demonstrations earlier in March which was partly suppressed by the police forces. A shopkeeper in Mytilini states that locking the people that lived among the locals all these years may result in criminalization of the migrants, being another reason why some locals have discomfort with the law proposed. The public agrees on the situation being unacceptable at the centers on the islands and the conditions were obvious for years. However, the time of the implementation is still ambiguous. (1) On another perspective, the immigrant issue united everyone on the islands from all political views from far right to left even though the government stayed still and even sent MAT, a special task police force in addition to initiating the construction on one of the closed centers in Samos. The residents of Lesbos now have the common goal to prevent facing with a similar situation, being afraid of turning to Ellis Island of New York as the point of collection of immigrants to the United States for more than 30 years. The locals also state their concerns of being seen as racists, mentioning that the island has 30,000 people with 25.000 being refugees to mention the disproportionality, even though there is a small group present with neo-Nazi tendencies. Another source of fear comes from economic reasons where tourism was effected the past two years by only two camps of Mytilini and Mora, since the summer is soon to come bringing more sun, good weather and potentially more boats to the shores.(1)
The asylum seekers are also not in a pleasant condition with inhumane living standards and with promises not kept by the governments since according to the procedure, their status has to be decided in 6 months, waiting for more than years, crying for help from the Europeans. Salam Aldeen, founder of a Danish NGO Team Humanity that serves as a center next to the refugee camp, who is expelled from the country of Greece last year by the police also states that the current situation on the islands are already bad and Turkey opening the borders without a solution present is only making things worse, and throwing lives at risk not only on the boats, but also in the camp sites because of poverty. (1)
The EU leaders also pay visits to Greece, calling the country “Europe´s Shield” for its position in the refugee situation. However, it is horrifying that the island serves as a total failure of the values EU possesses if not all humanitarian values. Since the refugee deal with Turkey is now proven to be ineffective, the public is seeking for better and more viable strategies in the relations with Turkish government; continuing their claim by stating the need of a fair distribution across all European countries to implement. (2)
It is obvious that protecting refugees, migrants and the NGO staff with providing services to them and allowing new arrivals with providing proper shelter shouldn´t only be addressed by Greek government, but also the EU and a larger entity like international community should take a part. (3)