CamCRAG Trustee Ed Sexton is volunteering on Lesvos for the winter of 2020/21. This is his latest report from the island.
Winter is fast approaching on Lesvos. Temperatures are dropping, and, although there has been no more heavy rain since the storm a few weeks ago, a persistent northerly wind keeps the nights cold in the new camp, now officially called RIC Kara Tepe.
There have also been no further transfers to the mainland, despite the Greek authorities’ insistence that RIC Kara Tepe is temporary, and that all refugees will be moved off the island by next spring. There are currently a little over 7,500 residents in the camp, 75% Afghan, with Syrians and Congolese the next most common nationalities. They are still housed in cramped conditions, as there are no more than 1,000 tents and three rub halls (large dormitory-style tents mostly occupied by single men) available.
The supposed ‘temporary’ nature of the camp has made it difficult for NGOs to expand the WASH and other infrastructure. There are still no connections to mains water or electricity, and thus no proper showers or hot water. At night, the camp is almost entirely dark.
Organisations, including Watershed and Refugees4Refugees, have begun installing flooring in the tents, composed of wooden boards on pallets, which offers some warmth, and protection from the ground next time we have heavy rain. A bucket shower system has been installed, drying racks for clothes distributed, and other simple interventions provided to make life a little easier.
The Lava Project is now back up to running at full capacity, washing the bedding and clothing from patients treated for scabies by the medical NGO Kitrinos. In a recent report the WHO identified over 300 cases of scabies in the camp, though the true number is likely to be much higher. They also found over 500 cases of other infectious diseases, and hundreds more of skin ailments. Almost 200 residents in the camp have been identified as suffering from acute mental illness.
Greece is currently under another lockdown, which means residents cannot leave the camp to work with NGOs or for other non-essential journeys. Unlike in the last lockdown, however, the authorities are allowing them to leave for medical reasons and to go shopping, perhaps a recognition of the resentment that built up in Moria last summer when it was virtually impossible for residents to leave the camp.
The next few months will be difficult for NGOs, for the people of Lesvos, but most of all for the refugees who remain stuck in inadequate accommodation on an unsuitable site on the coast of the Aegean. The only long-term solution is to transfer them to better housing on the mainland, speed up the asylum process, and move those successful applicants on to other European countries better able to carry the burden.