Greece to speed up transfers from Moria in response to increased pressure

The Greek government announced it will transfer around 2,000 asylum-seekers from Lesvos’ Moria refugee camp to the mainland by the end of September. The move follows increased pressure from non-governmental organizations, UNHCR and local authorities to improve living conditions.

Moria, the first reception center on Lesvos, is now hosting more that 8,300 people, which is almost three times its capacity. Meanwhile, more than 1,500 people arrived on Lesvos during the first two weeks of September alone.

We regularly receive questions and comments from many of you about the situation in Moria. The Refugee.Info team has visited Moria several times, and we’ve seen firsthand that conditions at the camp are worse than ever. We bring you the latest updates from Lesvos below.

Regional officials cite Moria’s public health risks

On September 10, the governor of the North Aegean, Christiana Kalogirou, issued a notice that declared Moria "unsuitable and dangerous for public health and the environment.” She gave the Minister of Migration and the camp manager a 30-day deadline to improve sanitary conditions.

Public health inspectors found uncontrollable amounts of waste, broken sewage pipes and overflowing garbage bins. Living quarters were dirty, stagnant water and flies were in the toilets, and overcrowding was causing a high risk of spreading disease.

Will Moria really close if the situation doesn’t improve and the 30-day deadline passes?

As a team of Greek and refugee journalists, lawyers and humanitarians with a deep understanding of the Greek reality, we think this is highly unlikely. Generally, these legal procedures tend to be very long, and closing Moria is not in the national government’s plans. The Greek government also doesn’t have any other accommodation options to offer to the thousands of people currently residing in Moria.  

For several months now, Greece has been trying to find ways to decongest the islands and speed up transfers for eligible asylum-seekers to the mainland, prioritizing transfers especially from Lesvos as Moria reaches a boiling point.

But this process has been really slow — even completely stalled at times — due to the scarcity of accommodation on the mainland.

Organizations pressure the Greek government to take action

In the past weeks, global media and international organizations have brought the situation in Moria under the spotlight.

The BBC has described Moria as the worst refugee camp in the world.

Conditions at Moria are “shameful,” according to 19 non-governmental organizations that  called for sustainable solutions to both decongest the islands and improve conditions across first receptions centers in the North Aegean Sea.

Last week, the staff working at various service providers in Moria staged a strike to protest overcrowding and working conditions at the site.

The medical and humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also called for the emergency evacuation of all vulnerable people, especially children, to safe accommodation on the Greek mainland and within the European Union.

MSF staff on the ground said they are witnessing “an unprecedented health and mental health emergency.” The organization reported an increase in suicide attempts and self-harm among refugee children, as well as cases of sexual assault.

The Greek government’s response

The Greek government responded to the pressure with the announcement of their plans to move 2,000 asylum-seekers from Lesvos. The news comes after they already organized massive transfers of people from Moria camp to camps on mainland Greece during the previous months.

Some 3,000 people were transferred from Moria to the mainland over the summer and another 700 people were moved last week, according to government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.

“The situation in Moria is indeed difficult, it is indeed at the limit," he said.

The government decides who gets transferred based on factors including vulnerability and asylum application status.

As always, we will keep you posted with any updates that we get. Meanwhile, if you are  in Moria and need to access any legal information or services, you can visit our website or message us on Facebook.