CamCRAG trustee Ed Sexton is volunteering on Lesvos until March
While the weather on Lesvos has finally improved this week, conditions for refugees living in the new ‘temporary’ camp are still poor. December and January brought storms from the south, with high winds and very heavy rainfall, interspersed by settled but cold weather, with night-time temperatures touching freezing and a biting northerly wind sweeping across the peninsula on which the new camp is sited. Anyone who has been a ‘sleeper’ at one of CamCRAG’s ‘Big Sleep Outs’ in recent years can imagine what it is like to live in a tent in these conditions: But try doing it night after night, week after week, all winter long.
To keep warm many residents use gas stoves and coal fires in and around their tents, which resulted in a fire destroying one tent last week. Thankfully no one was hurt. Sadly a similar incident this week at Thiva camp, near Athens, resulted in the death of an 8 year old boy: Temperatures on the mainland have been even colder than on Lesvos in recent weeks.
The discovery last month of lead contamination in the new camp was perhaps not a surprise, given its previous use as a military firing range. The Greek authorities have stated that samples taken from the residential areas were within international safety levels, with only one sample from the administrative area deemed unacceptably high: But children, who make up over 2300 of the camp’s 7000 residents, play in the dirt in all areas. New embankments, concrete floors and more gravel are promised, but are slow to materialise.
There have been some improvements; more hot water showers have been installed, on most days there are now around 300 working toilets, and 250 people were transferred to the mainland in January. In the same period, however, over 100 refugees came to the island, and one man died attempting the crossing. As the weather improves more are coming: In the first two weeks of February there were 170 new arrivals.
Electricity is still scarce, with the camp’s generators often overloaded due to demand, resulting in regular cuts to the supply. At night most of the camp is still in total darkness, making it a dangerous place, especially for single women and women-headed households, as there is still no secure area for these vulnerable groups.
We have been told that there will be more transfers to Germany of eligible refugees this month. It can not happen soon enough: Last Sunday a pregnant woman in the Kara Tepe camp, which mostly houses children and vulnerable women, set herself on fire in the hopes of hastening her relocation to Germany. She now faces being prosecuted for arson.