‘Humanitarian Disaster’ on Greek Island of Lesbos as 20,000 Migrants Need Relocation

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Aid workers are calling the situation on the Greek island of Lesbos a “humanitarian disaster” as authorities try to settle 20,000 migrants, most from Syria, throughout the Greek state. EU officials warn the migrant crisis engulfing the continent could take “years” to resolve.

“We are truly in the midst of a humanitarian disaster,” Kirk Day, the head of the International Rescue Committee’s mission to Lesbos, told the Agence France-Presse this week, as riot police struggled to quell protests from migrants desperately trying to find a way to leave to mainland Europe. In addition to migrants’ struggle to find food and shelter, hygiene was a growing issue, as well as keeping the island itself clean as thousands live on its streets.

While there are an estimated 30,000 migrants on all the Greek islands combined, 20,000 of them are on Lesbos. For comparison, 4,500 are estimated to have landed on Kos, the second-largest recipient of migrants among the islands, and Kos has been combatting violence for months as migrants demand resources to leave for the mainland. Kos officials have described their migrant processing operation as “overwhelmed” and “paralyzed” since June.

On Lesbos, meanwhile, the project of moving the migrants to the mainland is beginning, though not without turmoil. Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has stated Lesbos is “on the verge of explosion,” responding with the planned opening of a new refugee center in Athens to take in the islands’ migrants. Mouzalas has also promised, however, a resolution to the situation specific to that island “in the days to come.”

Greek newspaper Ta Nea reports that, on Monday, police were forced to restrain a group of migrants who had “set fire to tires and containers” in protest. This operation is occurring simultaneously with a registration process that reportedly processed 7,000 migrants on Monday, all on their way to Athens. Two ships carrying 2,850 migrants sailed off the island to Athens on Monday. Nearly 20,000 are expected to be relocated to the mainland by the end of the week.

Greece is also demanding help from the European Union in the form of medical aid and necessary supplies. That call for help has coincided with warnings from EU President Donald Tusk that the migrant crisis is here to stay, and Europe will be facing its consequences for years. “The wave of migration is not a one-time incident but the beginning of a real exodus, which means that we will have to deal with this problem for many years to come,” he said in a speech in Brussels.

The European Union has proposed a plan to move the majority of migrants currently in Greece, Hungary, and Italy to other European nations, with Germany, France, and Spain taking in the largest numbers.