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Greece Criticized For Policies Toward Refugees Housed On Island Of Lesbos

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We aired a disturbing story here last week about an overcrowded refugee camp in Greece. It's called Moria, and it's on the island of Lesbos. Some 12,000 people have been living there after fleeing places like Syria and Afghanistan. The camp was in lockdown because of the pandemic. There were protests against that order. And fires then broke out, destroying much of the camp. So what happens now to all of these refugees?

Faris Al-Jawad with the organization Doctors Without Borders is in Lesbos and joins us this morning. Thanks for being here.

FARIS AL-JAWAD: Hi, there.

GREENE: Can you just start by describing for us what the scene is there now? We're days on from these fires. I mean, where have refugees ended up since this destruction?

JAWAD: Yeah, it's been six days since the fire engulfed Moria and destroyed pretty much all of it. Thousands of people are still on the street without proper shelter. We're talking about newborn babies. We're talking about elderly people with underlying health conditions. We're talking about pregnant women. We're talking about extremely vulnerable people, and they are all on the streets without any shelter and really without any access to basic services or medical health care other than really what MSF are providing.

GREENE: I mean, even without having basic health care and all of what you need to live, I mean, they've been protesting - right? - I mean, trying to fight for their rights and to get some of the things that they need. What have these protests been like, and what exactly are the refugees demanding?

JAWAD: I mean, for many, many - well, years, actually - but in the last few months, it's hit a breaking point. The conditions are abhorrent in the camps. We're talking about a place that has the capacity for around 3,000 people that is crowned with up to 12,000 to 13,000 people living in just really deplorable conditions - people sharing tents with, you know, 10 people; lack of ability to keep clean, to, in times of a global pandemic, you know, have social distancing - and just no idea when this nightmare is going to end. So the tensions have been rising for a long, long time. Our mental health professionals have seen it hit breaking point, and we had been warning about something terrible happening for a long time, and this has now happened.

And what is clear is that people don't want to be put from one terrible camp into a new one that is just as bad because it will not change the situation. And we will just have a cyclical event of people living in just abhorrent conditions.

GREENE: Well, I understand the Greek army is building replacement shelters, which, it sounds like, is exactly what you say people don't want. But I mean - and there are many people who are skeptical about this move. But what can you tell us about that?

JAWAD: Yeah. I mean, that's - this new camp is in construction and has indeed already had some people moved into it. And of course, I mean, right now you have thousands of people on the streets, so people need some kind of shelter as a very short-term solution. But I mean, this is not the long-term solution, and we've been talking about this for years, since the 2016 EU Turkey deal that has kept people inside horrendous conditions. We've seen the implications and the consequences of that. And what needs to happen right now, actually, is that people need to be moved from the island into safe accommodation on the mainland of Greece and, indeed, other European states.

GREENE: All right. Faris Al-Jawad with the organization Doctors Without Borders on the Greek island of Lesbos joining us this morning. Thank you so much for your time.

JAWAD: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA AND PHILANTHROPE'S "NAUTICAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.