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Migrants wait in bread lines, while tourists dine on grilled octopus in Greece

MORIA, Greece — As night closed in on the migrant camp, masses of people made their way to their makeshift tents, climbing hills of denuded olive trees, carrying dinner in plastic bags. Lila Ayobi showed her family what she had waited three hours in line to collect.

Ten cucumbers.

“Everything else was finished,” Ayobi, 39, told them. Her four children would have nothing else to eat until morning, when Ayobi would rise at 5 a.m. to wait in line again, this time for prepackaged croissants, one per person.

Waiting and disappointment are a central part of existence for the 38,000 people at Greece’s critically overcrowded Aegean island camps, where Europe’s migrant crisis is clearly far from over.

At the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, the largest of the island facilities, migrants wait in snaking lines for up to eight hours a day to get their meals. They wait for breakfast, come back to their shelters for an hour or two, and soon head off to wait for lunch.

“All day waiting,” Ayobi said. “In all the time we spend in line, we could learn a new language.”

They wait because this camp has mushroomed in size, growing seven times more crowded than its capacity, a shantytown on a vacation island never intended for such emergencies.

They wait because the Greek government and local authorities are at odds about what to do with them, and because a closed-off Europe has not offered another place to put them, even as rights groups decry the camps as an emblem of the continent’s failures.

Conditions at the island camps have never been worse. Children shiver through the nights, bundled in wet blankets that never fully dry. There are protests, scabies outbreaks and fatal stabbings in middle-of-the-night fights. The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, has called the situation “explosive,” noting a “desperate lack of medical care and sanitation” — and the hours-long lines.

An Afghan couple prepare food outside their tent.

Many meals come in plastic packaging and result in mountains of garbage among the tents. (Photos by Giorgos Moutafis for The Washington Post)

Many people here fled war and other desperate environments, and they risked their lives to cross the Aegean Sea in flimsy rafts. They are grateful to have made it this far. But they describe feeling humiliated and dismayed, sensing that even in the food there is a message about the resources Europe is willing to spend on new arrivals: not much at all.

A nutritionist told The Washington Post that the meals appear to fall below minimum calorie requirements. One migrant said the food was worse than at her former workplace, an Afghan prison.

“We are living like animals. It’s not a life,” said Zekria Farzad, 40, who had been a journalist in Afghanistan, which is where most of the migrants at Moria come from. “Actually, we are struggling to be alive.”

Yet beyond the camp, closer to the water, locals and tourists are eating well. Lesbos’s tavernas serve octopus, grilled squid, feta, vegetables dressed with lemon and olive oil.

That jarring juxtaposition is part of what makes the camp “one of the worst places I’ve seen on earth,” said Marco Sandrone, the Lesbos field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

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“You can get a beer at the port, and then with 10 minutes’ drive you see an open-air prison,” said Sandrone, whose previous postings included Congo, South Sudan, Sierra Leone and Haiti. “There is no transition here between paradise and hell.”

Greece migrant camps continue to grow in size, as conditions get worse

Waiting for their future to be determined

How a small resort island came to host so many asylum seekers — and serve 57,000 daily, low-cost meals, provided in large part by a former wedding caterer — is a story that reflects Europe’s gridlocked immigration politics.

Opened five years ago at the beginning of a massive spike in migration to Europe, the Moria camp was supposed to be a short-term holding center for asylum seekers waiting to be transferred to the Greek mainland and elsewhere on the continent. Instead, it has become a bottleneck, with many people staying in Moria for a year or longer.

(Chiqui Esteban)

The overall number of migrants reaching Europe has plummeted from the highs of 2015 and 2016, but with no agreement on where to send them, even slight upticks in people crossing the Aegean Sea explode into emergencies in Lesbos.

A year ago, the camp held 4,900 people. Even then it was notorious for its conditions. Now, after a year of increased crossings from Turkey, the camp holds 19,400.

It has burst well outside its razor-wire fenced barriers, with most migrants living in tents on the surrounding hillside. They have no electricity, no plumbing, no way to cook except for fire.

They descend into the official camp for meals, coming through the main entrance or through holes in the fencing, and they crowd into spaces that camp administrators describe as dangerously tight. Administrators say fights and scuffles routinely break out during the wait.

A 20-year-old man from Yemen died last month after being stabbed in an altercation, the second stabbing fatality here in 2020.

“Almost we cannot control it,” Dmitris Vafeas, a Greek bureaucrat who is the camp’s acting director, said in an interview. “It’s an everyday struggle. We have problems of overpopulation here.”

Waiting for food, trying to survive

Most days at Moria, the food lines have already grown big by the time the main catering company’s food trucks arrive through the camp gates. The company, Elaitis, primarily did weddings until a few years ago. Now the Greek army pays Elaitis a daily rate of 5.01 euros per person, an amount that includes transportation and labor, to provide the food.

During several days at the camp last month, The Washington Post monitored what was served, much of which was marked with nutritional information. Athens-based nutritionist Ioanna Hassapi, who reviewed the food at The Post’s request, said the meals most days appeared to fall short of adult and teenage caloric needs — and those needs grow when people are sleeping outdoors and are chronically sick.

“If you eat this food, you won’t recover as easily,” Hassapi said. “It affects your immune system, your growth.”

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Every breakfast consists of a packaged croissant. Every dinner consists of a flatbread, a boiled egg and a cigar-sized spinach pastry — if you are far enough ahead in line. Only the lunch rotates: sometimes lentils and rice, sometimes beans, sometimes rice with meat. The food isn’t supposed to run out; occasionally, it does. The milk served to children resembles whitish water. Some days, there are tomatoes or cucumbers with dinner, other days not.

Migrants speak of getting stale bread and barely cooked rice, of losing weight, of new mothers eating so poorly that they stop lactating. While there has not been widespread malnutrition, a baby died of severe dehydration in the fall.

A child holds a croissant, the typical breakfast at the Moria migrant camp.

Dinner consists of a hard-boiled egg, a flatbread and a prepackaged spinach pastry, if food hasn’t run out.

Lentils with rice is one of the rotating meals for lunch. (Photos by Giorgos Moutafis for The Washington Post)

Some local officials have started to question whether Greece is failing to provide migrants the level of food it has paid for.

Stratis Balaskas, a city councilor who regularly visits Moria, said food quality has gone down as the camp has multiplied in size. Last month, several local officials, including Balaskas, brought a day’s worth of camp food to the island’s top prosecutor and asked her to open an investigation into whether the government and the food vendors are fulfilling their obligations.

“The cost of what they’re putting together now is next to nothing,” Balaskas said.

Greek prosecutors by rule do not comment to the public or the press on potential cases.

Greece’s defense ministry, which is in charge of monitoring the food at the camp, declined to comment for this story, as did the country’s migration ministry, which has recently vowed to lower the number of arrivals by strengthening border protection and increasing deportations to Turkey.

In an interview, Elaitis’s head of sales, Kostas Mavroudis, said his company was living up to the contract and spending about 4.50 euros, or $4.90, daily per migrant.

But he added that Elaitis has been stretched to keep up with the camp’s growth. The company expanded from 21 employees to 44, he said. It went from two delivery trucks to six. It created a five-person overnight shift. With that not being enough, it has also subcontracted to two companies in Athens, which now produce around 40 percent of the food and send it twice a week, frozen, by boat, he said.

Mavroudis defended the food’s quality. But the people who eat it say it has no flavor, that the colors range from brown to light brown, as if trying to make them nostalgic for what they had in the countries they fled.

“When you are desperate, you’d eat even grass,” said Ahmad Wait Anwary, 27, who had been a security guard in Afghanistan. “Unfortunately, this is the way it is here.”

Ahmad Wait Anwary, a former security guard from Afghanistan, sleeps in a shelter constructed out of cardboard. (Giorgos Moutafis for The Washington Post)

Stuck waiting

Greece has talked about closing the camps and building more restrictive detention centers in their place. But local authorities have orchestrated protests. They vehemently oppose the notion of permanent centers, and they are deeply skeptical that the government can build anything large enough to accommodate the asylum seekers already in the camps.

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Even if the plan goes forward, it is unclear what will happen to the overflow population.

The hillsides surrounding Moria have been picked bare by migrants foraging for additional food. Some families have built brick ovens inside their tents. The ovens are safety hazards, but they make it possible to bake bread. There is an Aldi supermarket on the island where people can get flour. There are also makeshift stands inside the camp, where people try to resell grocery items they bought in bulk. But those options are mostly for people who have been here several months, after a small monthly stipend from the United Nations has kicked in. And that stipend does not cover all they would need to eat in a month.

So, they still walk through the camp gates before mealtimes to wait.

One day last month, on a day like many others, they walked past a guard who was warning that the lines would be long, and then they made their way past 75 people who had just arrived by boat that morning and were waiting to be registered, past 100 people waiting to lodge applications for a transfer to the mainland, past 20 people in line at the asylum office, past 300 people waiting for U.N.-distributed blankets and toothbrushes.

Then they arrived at the food line. It was only beginning to form, 2½ hours before the first meals would be served. Women, who have their own line, huddled near a fence, waiting for the gates to open to a covered facility, where they would wait some more. Soon, thousands would be there, people who are less likely to get what would be served that day. But for now, it was just 30 people, holding children, wearing shower sandals or old sneakers, talking to one another.

A nutritionist in Athens said the camp meals most days appeared to fall short of adult and teenage caloric needs — and those needs grow when people are sleeping outdoors and are chronically sick. (Giorgos Moutafis for The Washington Post)

Elinda Labropoulou contributed to this report. Story and video by Chico Harlan. Photos by Giorgos Moutafis. Story editing by Marisa Bellack. Photo editing by Chloe Coleman. Design and development by Allison Mann. Copy editing by Paola Ruano. Video editing by Alexa Juliana Ard. Graphic by Chiqui Esteban

Source : washingtonpost.com

 

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

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“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  Hope rises for Nigerian girl held captive in Lebanon

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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