Greece: Refugee life on the other side of the highway
The fire at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos in the Aegean has raised questions once more about the plight of the 24,000 refugees seeking a way into Europe.
by Greg Mills, Director, The Brenthurst Foundation
An image taken with a drone shows the refugee camp of Moria, on Lesvos island, Greece, 22 January 2020. At the camp, which is meant to host 2,500 migrants and refugees, now houses more than 20,000 people in poor conditions. The entire island of Lesvos among with Chios and Samos held a 24-hour strike on 22 January to protest the migration situation as thousands of asylum seekers are stranded there in unbearable conditions and low temperatures. EPA-EFE/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS
1 October 2020
It’s a slog up the steep hill from the quayside shops at the port of Samos to the Vathy camp on the slopes above the town. The sun is baking, the road seeming to stick to the tyres of my bike as I ground my way past women and children lugging water, cans, food and other supplies to the camp.
The facility lies on the other side of the double-lane highway linking the island’s eponymous port over a series of steep mountains, I was warned, to the more famous village of Pythagorio on the southern coast, the birthplace of the philosopher-mathematician. The Vathy camp opened in early 2016 on the site of a former military base, conveniently close to a major hospital.
That year saw the peak, so far, of the refugee wave.
More than a million migrants arrived in Europe from Africa and the Middle East in 2015, nearly half from Syria. Of the total, 850,000 landed on the Greek islands.
Greece’s geography makes it the gateway to the European Union, a short journey from mainland Turkey which today is, according to the UN, host to the world’s largest refugee population, some four million people, of which 3.6 million are Syrian.
Samos is the closest Greek island to Turkey, just over a kilometre away across the Mycale Strait. In just three months in 2015/16 more than 100,000 refugees landed on Samos, many surviving perilous passages on exposed inflatables.