The Afghans

The refugee situation on Lesbos has changed since I was here a year ago. In Moria camp, the former military base where the vast majority of refugees are obliged to live, the population has dwindled from 8,000 a few months ago to just 4,500. The camp’s capacity is two thousand people, so it’s still very overcrowded, but not as bad as it was. It remains dirty and unsafe, especially for lone women and unaccompanied children and the medical care remains very basic. Medecins sans Frontiere run a clinic outside the camp, but they only have capacity to treat women and children.

The reason for the drop in numbers is that a large number of refugees have been transferred to camps and other accommodation on the mainland. Ninety per cent of those who remain are Farsi-speaking Afghans. The ones I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days say that life in Afghanistan has become even more unsafe than before, due to the rising power of Isis, who are present there in substantial numbers. The risks faced by Afghans are not properly recognized in Europe. Many are refused asylum and some get deported. Apparently it’s no coincidence that the Afghans are the biggest refugee group on Lesbos: their claims are dealt with more slowly than those of the Kurds, Arabs and Africans (whose claims have generally taken up to two years to process).

The EU-Turkey Agreement of 2016 remains in force; about two thirds of the boats setting off for the Greek islands from the Turkish coast are forced to return there. Refugees who make it to Lesbos often report that their successful crossing was their third or fourth attempt. How many of them appreciate just how difficult their lives will be from the moment they arrive in Greece, is hard to say.