Lesbos Horror: Refugee Children Affected

Greece’s generosity to cater to refugees and asylum seekers is greatly valued, but its resources have been extremely stretched beyond national capacity. In an effort to resolve this complex issue, Greece, in 2016, had signed a deal with the EU and Turkey which permits migrants to stay on the island of Lesbos. However, these people are not granted travel rights to mainland Greece and, for the past years, thousands of migrants have been stuck there.

It is no news that, typically in overcrowded migrants “camps” like these, there is always a shortage of necessary supplies. This area which wasn’t designed to accommodate over 3,000 people is now home to over 20,000. This has bred protests: in one protest some 2,000 people around Moria were tear-gassed. This protest like every other unaccepted protest, left the Greek police firing tear gas to disperse the mob. This unfortunate situation, made children and even babies victims of the gas.

Al Jazeera reports having witnessed children preventing inhalation by wearing masks. Though the bottom line for the protest is a demand for a change of their living conditions, there was no guarantee that these demands will or could be met by the government. An Afghan refugee in anonymity, told Al Jazeera: “I participated because people are dying in Moria and nobody cares. We feel like we don’t have a future here, if we wanted to die then we could have stayed in Afghanistan. We came here to look for a good future and to be safe, this is not a place for living.”

The sad cases of death spanning from fires, stabbings, hunger, and lack of medical care especially for babies remains a huge concern for these people. The “Freedom, Freedom” loud chants from some 200 Afghans left the Greek government apologizing to the Lesbos residents. But saying, “Lesbos people, we are sorry,” did not seem to calm the already angry and frustrated refugees. The thickness of the tension could be felt on Tuesday at the Mytilene center.

An eye witness, German journalist, Franziska Grillmeier, told Al Jazeera what she saw on Monday. In her words, “there were men holding their kids up, kids who were foaming at the mouth, kids having panic attacks and babies unable to breathe and dehydrating through the gas.” She added, “I saw serious attacks on people, beatings with sticks. I also saw people screaming, holding their kids in the air and saying: ‘look what you’ve done.'”

An Italian photographer, Paolo Amadei, narrated what he saw: “there were police throwing gas, women and kids and infants got gassed and there were many kids crying.

It came as no surprise to the UNHCR as its spokesman Boris Cheshirkov, reiterated to Al Jazeera, the UNHCR has urged the Greek government to transfer people to the mainland. This should be a component in European solidarity, and responsibility-sharing is now crucial.

Even though the Ministry of Citizen Protection declined to confirm with Al Jazeera if migrants were detained, Info Migrants adds that Greek’s Migration Minister, Notis made a public comment. He said, “the Greek authorities are stepping up security and safeguards, as well as investigating the possibility of some people inciting such incidents,” said Mitarakis, adding that “some may be upset, but let’s face it, the policy [on the refugee issue] has changed.”

Joining Amnesty International and other rights organizations, it is paramount that measures to protect the well being of children should be considered when conflicts ensue. The Greek authorities should devise amicable conflict resolution methods, and the government should enact policies that can reduce the cramped situation in the camps.

Sarah Namondo