IWB for refugees: Greece

Summary of the national legislation on refugees

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Refugee life in Greece

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The legal process

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Interviews and stories of refugee life

REPORT ON THE FIRST RECEPTION CENTRE FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS IN MORIA, LESVOS

 By Smaro Pegiou

20150715_102402On Wednesday 15/07/2015 I managed to enter the Moria camp facility, which is a first reception centre for asylum seekers that arrive massively by boats at the coasts of Mytilene (Lesvos). Lesvos is a Greek island located in the northeastern Aegean Sea very close to the Turkish coast, opposite Ayvalik. The Moria reception camp is housed in a former military base and it is located in the countryside, approximately 1km from the sea and 3kms from the town of Mytilene. The complex was primarily built to be a detention centre and the funding for this ‘facility’ was provided by the EU Returns Fund (75%) and the Greek government (26%).

The people received here are those who have travelled across the Aegean to seek asylum and/or work in the European Union. Many of those who make it to the island are considered the ‘lucky’ ones, as more than 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean on such journeys over the last 20 years (Migreurop, IOM estimates). 20150710_194434 - Copia

During my stay in Lesvos I witnessed several Frontex boats intercepting a dingy, carrying almost 100 migrants attempting to cross over to Lesvos from Turkey. Several international organizations (MSF, Doctors of the World, UNHCR) have told us that currently there are 4,000 people on the move on Lesvos and more are expected to arrive due to the good weather conditions which allow more migrants to leave by boat and the unprecedented and continuous situation in Syria. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 migrants arrive at Lesvos every day, most coming from Syria and Afghanistan. The massive unprecedented influx of migrants along with the deteriorating economic situation of Greece puts pressure on small island communities, which lack the socioeconomic infrastructure to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.

After they come ashore on the north of the island, at the closest point to Turkey, the refugees have to walk around 40km more or less to reach Kara Tepe and Moria camp because of a Greek anti-smugglers law which makes it illegal to provide transport for migrants.

20150715_102027During my stay in the island there was a case of two local women who volunteered to transport some exhausted and dehydrated migrants, (among them pregnant women and children), who were subsequently arrested over the weekend and brought before the Prosecutor accused of the “transfer of illegal foreign migrants”.  Thankfully, both were acquitted by the Misdemeanors Court of Mytilene.

The asylum seekers in the first reception camp of Moria can get registered, processed and see doctors and medical staff. They stay there from two days to a week and then they can catch a ferry to mainland Greece. From Moria they get a permit to stay for one month during which they can submit an official request for asylum. If they come from Syria, the duration of their permit lasts for six months.  According to the organizations, women and children go through a faster procedure than the rest.

In Greece, there is a serious lack of proper infrastructure to manage this high influx of irregular migrants. The reception infrastructure and the asylum service are overwhelmed. However, there also seems to be some improvements in managing the procedures of registration.

We arrived at the Moria reception camp by bus on Wednesday morning. It was very hot with the temperature rising up to 35° Celsius degrees. Every 20 minutes there were either a family group or individual migrants arriving exhausted and dehydrated at the camp.  Outside of the Moria reception camp many migrants have set up tents with scarce or no access to water or sanitation facilities. A truck selling watermelons, toilet paper, bottles of water, biscuits and other products of basic needs comes and goes since there is great demand.  We managed to enter the camp as a group of people dealing with asylum and migration academically and professionally even though strictly speaking we were far too many people entering at once. This fact created a very uneasy feeling to many of us since we were powerless in having some sort of impact on the asylum seekers’ lives.  We brought a big carton box with medical supplies based on a list that Doctors of the World had given us in advance.  Three organizations/NGOs are working inside the Moria Camp. These are the Doctors of the World that deal with the medical coverage of the needs of the people inside the camp, the METADRASI that provides certified interpreters, guardianship of unaccompanied minors and also escort them from detention centers to appropriate hosting spaces, and UNHCR which offer technical advice on legal aspects, quality assurance, information analysis, project management and communication, as well as country of origin information to the Central Asylum Service.

20150710_194426Representatives from these three organizations spoke with us and discussed the needs and the general situation inside the camp and on the island in general with regards to the ongoing influx of migrants.  While we were inside, detainees at some point started demonstrating by banging plastic bottles. Some of them shouted ‘Thank you for coming here’… the encounter left me with an overwhelming sense of powerless. While I could do certain things, offer medicine and information, talk with them, highlight the situation by reporting on it, showing ‘solidarity’ with their desperate situation, faced with their reality the main feeling was still powerless. A touching moment came later when we went outside the camp, where many migrants camped until they are allowed to enter and register. Some Afghan boys came to us, curious to see what exactly we were looking for over there. Moa, a PhD student that speaks Farsi tried to communicate with them. Soon enough we started making jokes and speaking about football in both English and farsi-dari with the help of Moa. Suddenly, something was said in Dari and one of the boys ran fast to the nearby selling truck. He returned holding a watermelon. ‘You are our guests’ he said with a smile as he offered us the watermelon. For a brief while we formed a relaxed rapport sharing a watermelon, laughing and trying to communicate with one another. There we were, simply a group of people eating, laughing, speaking and listening to one another.  It was for us a moment which highlighted the simple and great human need to be understood and to communicate with one another.

It has been estimated that since the start of 2015 more than 25,000 people arrived on the island, which has a population of about 90,000 people. It is expected that this number will grow in the coming months. With such a situation, the locals and volunteers cannot be left to deal with this refugee and humanitarian crisis alone. The commitment expressed by EU Member States to resettle 20,000 refugees to the EU is indeed something to be welcomed, but in truth, sounds very hypocritical when currently Turkey has 1,805,255 Syrian registered refugees, Lebanon 1,172,753, Jordan 629,128, Iraq 251,499 and Egypt 132,375 according to UNHCR on the Syria Regional Refugee Response.  Europe needs to take more action and stop turning a blind eye.

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Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status

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Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Greece

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The subjective perspective

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Greecegr

Capital: Athens
Location: Southern Europe
EU-member since 1981
Currency: Euro
Population: 10,816,286
GDP:
Min. wage:
Poverty line:
Population under poverty line:

IWB Researchersforwebsite

Smaro Pegiou

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Given my professional and academic experience on migration and asylum issues, I joined the IWB for Refugees Project in order to contribute at and to be part of such an ambitious project.

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on 21 September 2015

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