The Greek island of Lesbos is on the “verge of explosion” because of an ever-increasing influx of refugees, a Greek minister told the BBC.
Some refugees have been stuck there for days. The frustration, sweltering heat, and endless waiting have caused clashes to break out as thousands of refugees crowded the island’s port to try and get onto the cruise ship sent to collect them to bring them to mainland Greece, NBC and the Guardian report.
Katerina Nikolarea, who has been volunteering for the Hellenic Red Cross for 10 years, told Business Insider that one of the reasons for the clashes between refugees is the preferential status given to Syrians.
“Authorities have been separating Syrians from other nationalities, because the Syrians are prioritised and sent away by ship first,” Nikolarea said. “So the other refugees, mostly Afghans and Pakistani, thought they were mistreated because Syrians left the island first.”
There are also tensions between the refugees and members of the local coast guard, as the refugees do not understand why they have to wait for so long at the port, according to Nikolarea.
“There is not enough information about the procedure steps,” Nikolarea said, citing the lack of information as one of the biggest problems on Lesbos. “They have to wait because there are too many, and there are only some coast guards that can do this job. Nobody else can do that.”
To try and remedy the problem, Nikolarea and some other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are planning to print out flyers with the procedures for the refugees translated in Farsi and Arabic.
“They get their tickets, they go to the detention center and they get registered, photographed and then they leave. That’s the procedure,” Nikolarea explained. But the system is so backed up that the number of refugees on the island can’t be processed quickly enough — creating huge backlogs.
The Greek government, United Nations, and other NGOs have been sending extra staff to the area, where an abandoned football field has been turned into a processing center. However, the sheer number of refugees arriving makes it impossible for the small island’s inhabitants to cope.
Still, despite being overwhelmed, many locals are doing what they can to help the refugees, according to Nikolarea.
“Of course there are others who try to exploit the situation. But you know, we are human, you can find the whole scale of reactions toward this. But mostly local people are quite helpful,” Nikolerea said.
But she also said there was one issue causing tensions between refugees and locals: garbage.
“The refugees eat something and then throw things down, and this of course creates another havoc, it is a matter of sanitation,” she said. “And you have garbage cans, I am not kidding, that are empty, and a pile of garbage next to the can. This is reality.” She said garbage collectors are trying to do their job but the overwhelming number of people on the island makes it virtually impossible for them to clean up.
The same garbage problem exists in the detention centres, even though workers strive to make those centres as clean as possible. Inside unaccompanied underage refugees stay in different rooms from families and single adults.
Stressing she could only talk about the Moria center where she works, Nikolarea said that apart from the garbage problem, the living conditions were good.
“They are given food, I’m not quite sure what food they are given, they are given breakfast, lunch and dinner if I am not mistaken,” she said. “Each room has a bathroom, a toilet and a shower.”
And while some refugees remain in the center while they are being registered, there are way too many refugees on the island to be able to let them all stay there. This has led makeshift camps to pop up around the island, where desperate asylum-seekers wait for their application to be processed, the BBC reports.
Alessandra Morelli, UN refugee agency representative on Lesbos, told NBC News that a solution had been found and that ships from Athens would come and bring the refugees to mainland Greece. But even as the UN claims the backlog problem will be solved in a few days, new refugees keep arriving on an island that has no room for them.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.