reece has yet to recover from the global recession of 2008 and was unprepared for the influx of Middle Eastern migrants to refugee camps on the Greek islands of Samos, Chios, Leros, Kos, and Lesbos. The Greek government has been criticized for overcrowding and poor conditions in most their camps.
Moria, a camp on the island Lesbos, was hit hard by the 1,191,000 migrants that have come to Greece between 2015-present. Moria was designed for a total of 3,100 people and, as of November 2019, is holding 16,100 asylum seekers. Local officials created the “Hospitality Centre for Refugees and Migrants (Kara Tepe)” to act as overflow from Moria. Although the long-term solution to Greece’s refugee crisis may be relocation, local officials should look to the comfortable structure of Kara Tepe as a model for improving the living conditions in the other refugee camps.
Despite the EU providing over 5 million euros to create and manage Moria, overcrowding has gotten to the point where livable conditions are contemptible. Those who do not fit within the confines of the barbed wire—where there are typically four people to one bunk bed—have created make-shift tents outside camp grounds in the olive grove. Food, water, medical supplies and other necessities are dwindling by the day, and there are over 100 people sharing one toilet. Aside from the sanitary concerns, women and families don’t feel safe at night.
In an attempt to offset this issue of overcrowding long term, a deal between the European Council and Turkey was reached in March of 2016 to slow down irregular migration and keep people in Turkey until they properly apply for asylum in Greece. However, three years after the deal passed, there were still 10,367 migrants just in the month of September 2019—turning Moria into a sort of detention camp as migrants wait for their asylum claims to be settled. According to Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos, Greece is currently dealing with about 75,000 asylum claims. Waiting for asylum does not have to be such a grim process and it isn’t for the 1,200 habitants of Kara Tepe.
How has Kara Tepe managed to maintain its standards and other Greek refugee camps have not? Dr. Tina Mavrikos-Adamou suggests that it is a matter of immigration issues be-ing handled by subnational actors instead of those on a national or supranational level. The centralized nature of Greece forces EU funding to first go to the national level before it can be distributed to localities. However, in the case of Kara Tepe, NGOs such as Movement on the Ground took control of organizing the camp. Created in April 2015—Kara Tepe has not exceeded its capacity of 1,200; therefore, the conditions of the center are safe, sanitary, and able to maintain reasonable standards of living. Observers have also pointed to the success of site manager Stavros Mirogiannis in managing the funds properly and not allowing Kara Tepe to exceed its capacity. In fact, the center even has extracurriculars such as soccer academies, a theater, a safe space for women, language lessons, and even areas for crafting.
According to Dr. Mavrikos-Adamou, Kara Tepe presents an effective model on how to recruit subnational actors to take on national-level administrative and decision-making roles. A local blog discusses how Stavros’ departure in August 2019 leaves questions and fear about whether the next manager will be able to maintain the conditions of the camp or if it will even remain open in his absence. Nonetheless, Kara Tepe should be seen as a beacon of hope and example to future management that it is possible to create and maintain refugee camps that are comfortable enough for a family to live in while they await permanent asylum.
Despite the bleak reality of Moria and other overcrowded camps in Greece, the Greek government should take advantage of the help they are receiving from the EU and NGOs to adjust the overcrowded camps and create a sustainable, long-term plan for asylum seekers. Giving more power and funds to the locals and willing NGO’s working in Lesbos could be the short-term solution to lessen the immense suffering of its inhabitants. Although these adjustments may offer an adequate lifestyle, it is a temporary lifestyle that needs the aid of all of Europe to give asylum seekers what they are in search of, a new home.