Living on one of the Greek islands that hosts refugees means that I constantly pay attention to something called “Aegean Boat Report”, a website that gives accurate and up-to-date information about the number of refugees crossing on boats illegally from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands. New information is posted in real time, but at the end of each month, a report is released, which nicely sums up all of the numbers from the whole month.
With 2018 just concluding, the final numbers for the year have been released. The report speaks for itself, but the break down of the numbers is especially interesting to me to glance over. Refugees board small, barely seaworthy boats from multiple different points in Turkey where they are smuggled across the waters. If they aren’t caught by the Turkish coast guard, they land on different Greek islands. Some of these islands are inhabited and some of them are not. Depending on which island they land on, they are brought to specific camps on the different islands that host refugees. As seen in the report below, the largest number of refugees get sent to the camp on the large island of Lesvos, not because the island is particularly equipped to handle more refugees, but because the distance between Turkey and Greece is extremely small at this point on the map, making it the easiest crossing. Unfortunately for those who make it to Lesvos, they end up in, what some have called, “the most refugee camp in the world.”
More than half of the refugees fleeing conflict via Turkey on these boats are caught and returned to Turkey. Many of them are put in jail. Aegean Boat Report often posts videos of these arrests being made. Since this all occurs in the water, the videos always look confusing, just people being emptied off of their rafts and boarding a larger vessel and then being transported to Turkey where they quietly step off of the boat with their belongings. It all seems very tame, but what happens once they’re in the possession of the Turkish police is a whole different story, one that I can’t begin to imagine.
While the thousands of refugees on the islands are not prisoners, with the right to freely roam around the island they are assigned to, they are under “geographical restrictions”, meaning they are not allowed, by law, to move around the country of Greece. This is not the case for the refugees who are assigned to camps on mainland Greece. With camps on the islands often overcrowded though, many refugees end up getting transferred to the mainland, hence the category listed above. Many refugees, including people I’ve met personally, take full advantage of their lifted restrictions when they’re transferred to the mainland and try to escape to Italy or Albania, or try to find an alternative route to get themselves out of Greece and away from the asylum process that doesn’t always work in their favor.
With the number of arrivals on the rise since 2017, the numbers are once again proving that the conflict in the middle east and the general refugee crisis is continuing. The last time I was on Leros, less than a year ago, I don’t remember meeting anyone from the country of Palestine. Now, there are hundreds of Palestinians here, seeking asylum. This is a growing population of people, on top of groups from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, all of which also have a growing number of asylum seekers. More and more people are fleeing their homes for their lives.
Glancing over this final report from 2018, I simply acknowledge what it means for me to be working with refugees on the island of Leros. This is one of the most tame islands there is. The Hotspot camp is one of the most humane in all of Greece. The people have the Hub as an outlet for school and entertainment. There are never more than 1,000 refugees here at a time. And yet, often…almost always, things are unbearable here as well. Happy 2019…
Please see www.facebook.com/aegeanboatreport for further information…