Moria nightmare

The beginning of the new decade saw more than 21.000 refugees trapped on Lesvos as a result of the continuing implementation of the toxic EU-Turkey deal and the policy of geographic restriction[1]. According to most recent statistics, almost 19.200 registered individuals reside in exceptionally precarious conditions in and around the hotspot that has an official capacity of 2.840 people.[2] The pictures of impoverishment and shocking testimonies that come to light almost daily by international media and the serious impact upon the mental and physical health of thousands of vulnerable refugees tend to become nowadays an accepted ‘normalcy’. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) spoke with refugees who live in and around the hotspot. The situation in the Moria hotspot reflects something straight out of nightmare that crashes any sense of dignity and civilization and illustrates a seriously deficient reception system and the disastrous consequences of the existing asylum policy of EU Member States.

According to UNHCR[3], the majority of refugees on Lesvos originates from Afghanistan (70%), Syria (13%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (4%) and Somalia (4%). These statistics show that the majority of population comes from countries with a high refugee profile. 42% of the population is children (7 out of 10 are below 12-years-old), females are 24 % of the population while males are 33 % and are aged 18-39.[4] Government announcements concerning the decongestion of the islands by the end of November 2019 proved to be plans without a realistic basis[5]. The increase of refugee arrivals from the Turkish shores to the Aegean islands was already obvious since last summer. Lesvos island is for months now in the first places in relation to arrivals while transfers to the mainland are obviously less in comparison.

In total, during 2019 a total of 27.148 refugees and migrants arrived on Lesvos while the number of transfers to the mainland were nearly half of the number of arrivals (13.406 individuals). [6] In a recent informative note on the situation on Greece, UNHCR notes that «nearly all accommodation places in Greece are full around the country, and this makes difficult the transfers of people from the islands».

Thousands of refugees exposed to the winter

It is estimated that three quarters of the refugee population living around the Moria hotspot in tents and makeshift shelters. The bad weather conditions deteriorated their situation that does not seem to sensitize the decision-makers or public opinion while solidarity grounds from Greece and abroad continue their efforts to support the situation.

The conditions[7] that have been created inside and outside Moria hotspot are now something more than inhuman and dangerous. They are simply indescribable. Many of the containers inside the hotspot house more people than their actual capacity so that refugees are not forced to stay in a tent. A man from Congo who is a victim of torture and lives inside the Moria hotspot describes: «We are 15 inside the container where there are 10 beds. Some sleep using their blankets for mattresses. Some share a bed. (While there is heating) because there are frequent electricity cuts it is impossible to heat the area. The conditions in which we live are dire».

In the ‘Olive Grove’ (or as the refugees call it ‘jungle’) around the hotspot, the situation is once more out of control. The extension of the informal settlement in the left side on the hill outside the hotspot is characteristic of the serious overcrowding. Many new arrivals are not provided any more a tent. They must buy themselves a tent or to build a shelter with materials they find in the garbage from the surrounding area. They also must find a way to protect their tents and makeshift shelters from the weather conditions that have become more extreme in the last month.

The electricity outside the hotspot is transferred to the camp outside the hotspot with wires who are hanging above the tents and the makeshift shelters. This increases the danger of an accident, lethal incident or extensive fire. There are frequent electricity cuts that take place very often resulting in the refugees inside and outside the hotspot to either try to cook and to keep warm. [8] The refugees are provided with water from central taps established outside the hotspot.

Among the thousands of refugees that reside around the hotspot, there are many vulnerable such as people with disabilities and women who have recently given birth. Last December, RSA members identified in tents outside the hotspot eight persons with visual impairments and a family of people with a hearing impairment for who no care has been taken.

«I do not know how I can live in this place with my new born baby. How can we both stand the cold and the conditions that exist?», asks terrified an Afghan woman who gave birth few days before she spoke with RSA and lives in a tent in the ‘Olive Grove’.

«I suffer from pain because of humidity and rain. The floor of my tent is full of mud when it rains», we were told by another Afghan woman who suffers from disk problems and arthritis and lives also outside the hotspot.

One toilet for 200 individuals

According to information from the field, inside the hotspot there are currently 90 toilets and 90 showers and outside in the ‘Olive Grove’ less than thirty and attention has not been paid to access for people for special needs. According to the estimates in some parts in the ‘Olive Grove’, one toilet corresponds to 200 people and a shower for 506 people.[9] The result is that even for the most basic needs, people have to stand in the queue daily. In the left side that has recently become and an additional extension of the informal settlement with tents and informal shelters, there are no toilets and showers at all. Every day refugees also have to wait in the queue for many hours in order to get a meal.

Parwana is a 15-year-old girl from Afghanistan who until recently lived with her parents and four siblings in a tent outside the hotspot.[10] The young refugee described the difficulties they faced transferring her father who was expected to undergo a serious operation on his knee to the toilet. «My two brothers have to carry him in their arms in order to go to the toilet or even to go outside the tent for a little while. Each additional hour for us in this place is torture», said Parwana. Because of the seriousness of her father’s health, Parwana and her family were eventually transferred to a camp in the mainland after three months of living in a tent outside Moria hotspot.

Exceptionally insecure conditions

In the middle of November 2019, a 9-month old baby from Congo died in Moria hotspot[11]. According to the assessment of the Médecins Sans Frontières the cause of death was dehydration. This is the seventh confirmed death in Moria within few months (September 2019 to Janary 2020).[12]

Lack of lighting and sufficient number of police officers supervising the area increases the sense of insecurity, mainly for women. There is also a continuous fear for criminality[13] and violence. Α few days ago, two young males – one from Yemen and one from Congo- died after being lethally stabbed in the camp.[14]

«We live under stress and insecurity, we are in a situation of permanent shock. We experience panic and trauma daily… All our property is our blankets and some warm clothes. The fear of loss even of those things keeps us in the tent all day», says Parwana.

A refugee family reported that they were attacked with a knife by other refugees in the ‘Olive Grove’ because of their religious beliefs: «After this attack we could not sleep in our tent any longer. We were afraid all the time that they would attack us again». Also, a refugee from Africa reported that she was attacked by other women she shared a container in the hotspot because of her sexual orientation. «I must leave immediately from this place, because my life is in danger», she said[15].

3 doctors for over 19.000 people

According to data provided by the National Organization for Public Health (EODY), in Moria hotspot there are 3 doctors; 8 nurses, 8 psychologists; 4 social workers; 2 midwives; 1 rescuer; 1 field coordinator; 7 interpreters (1 for Farsi, 3 for Arabic, 2 for Urdu and 1 for French) and an ambulance driver. Working hours are from 8:00 in the morning until 21:00 in the evening[16].

NGOs and volunteers try to cover some of the gaps in health care provided by the authorities still without being in a position to cover the massive needs.

«The camp finds itself daily in an emergency situation», MSF noted following the death of the 9-month-old baby. According to recent data from the organization, between March 2019 until today, the paediatric clinic of the organization in Lesvos has received more than 270 children with chronic and complex health problems such as epilepsy, diabetes, cardiopathy, asthma etc. «They all require urgently regular pharmaceutical care, tests and monitoring however the public hospitals and clinics of primary health care are not able to offer appropriate care because simply they do not have specialized medical staff required for their problems», reports characteristically the organization[17].

Inestimable is also the number of those vulnerable that require medical and pharmaceutical care but not receive it, particularly following the decision of the Greek government last July to recall a Circular regulating the granting of a Social Security number (so-called ΑΜΚΑ) for third country nationals[18]. The recent asylum law (Law 4636/1.11.2019) provides the granting of a Temporary Number of Insurance and Healthcare to a Third-Country National (Article 55 para. 2) which ensures access to healthcare services. However, this provision has not yet been implemented in practice as – despite repeated calls of human rights and humanitarian NGOs [19]– the issuance of the relevant Joint Ministerial Decision is pending.

Naiem Mohammadi, a Farsi speaking interpreter for RSA who provides daily his services in Vostaneio general hospital in Mytilene reports: «The hospital fills every day with refugee children who due to the conditions and their exposure to the cold and rain suffer from coughs, fever and gastrointestinal problems».

According to reports, the hospital staff examine all patients who are asylum-seekers even if they do not have AMKA. However, as a result of the lack of AMKA, patients must pay for the whole price of their medication in order to obtain it without always having available the required amount. This often leads the same patients going back for re-examination often in a worse situation because of the deterioration of their condition.

The hospital staff also faces great difficulties due to the non-proportional increase of the personnel in order to deal with the increased needs of health care provision that are the result of the increase of the refugee population on the island. These challenges often intensify due to the fact that the interpreters available in the hospital can cover only morning hours and not evenings and weekends.

Thousands of refugee children exposed to dire conditions and dangers

According to publications, there are currently more than 6.500 children including 1.150 unaccompanied minors living in Moria. [20] These children are exposed to dire conditions, insecurity and violence. The safe zone inside the hotspot (with capacity for 66 unaccompanied minors) is more than full and as a result the majority of these children live in exceptionally precarious conditions together with adults[21]. According to the UN Refugee Agency, half of the 1.150 unaccompanied children who lived in Moria in November 2019 slept in a very large tent or found themselves a place to sleep.[22] What also remains unaddressed is the issue of education since none of the school-aged children who live in Moria have access to formal education. Lessons of informal education and activities are provided by NGOS.[23]

In the last year, three children lost their lives during their stay in Moria hotspot. Indicative is the case of a 15-year-old unaccompanied boy who lost his life following a quarrel that broke out in the hotspot’s ‘safe zone’ last August[24]. Many are nowadays the publications and reports from organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières on the tragic consequences of the conditions they live in Moria and specifically for self-harm, suicidal thoughts, ‘resignation syndrome’ and suicide attempts.[25] Illustrative is the case of a nine-year old child with disability from Afghanistan who – following serious violence that occurred in the hotspot she resided August – showed the rare ‘resignation syndrome’. The child suddenly stopped talking and communicate and since then is in a permanent catatonic state and fed with the assistance of other and with mashed food.[26]

Konstantina Kranou, Supervisor Social Worker and Psychotherapist for Refugee Support Aegean, explains to us: «The stressors experienced by refugee children can be divided into three phases: a. The events they experienced in their country of origin: they have often been forced to flee their homes because of war, likely to have been victims or witnesses of violence, torture and loss. They may not even have memories of a period of stability. A life of safety, self-sufficiency and resources, schooling and a stable family environment. b. The events they experienced during the flight journey, which can last for many months of hardship and carry deadly risks. During this time, many may experience separation from their family/carers either accidentally or as a strategy to ensure their safety. Many times, money to traffickers is enough for only one person to travel and the family choose to save their children. Also, because of the increasingly stricter asylum procedures, there is hope that an unaccompanied child may have more possibilities to be granted international protection. Few years ago, we would refer to the third and final phase, as the period of adapting to a new society. Once safe in the host country, we would comment on the challenges of joining a new classroom, learning the language, the dimensions of inter-culturalism. Unfortunately, the long-awaited arrival in Europe now marks the beginning of a painful period, which I dare say is likely to be experienced as the most traumatic. While still in the countries of origin or on the flight journey, the difficulties were undoubtedly many. But there was hope that they would find themselves in a country where they could live safely. At this stage, it seems as though they are losing exactly that hope which is the driving force».

Understaffed services

From September 2018 and onwards when there were around 9.000 persons living inside and outside the hotspot (half the population in comparison with today), staff expressed their belief that if the number of refugees increased they would not be able to cope and maintain control. In early December, staff in the Community Service Programmes (B and C cycle) in Moria hotspot went on few hours strike action, demanding the extension of their contracts and permanent and regular employment[27]. The workers announced among other things lack of staff in important specializations.

The understaffing has among others significant consequences on delays for the family reunification procedures of adults and minors with members of their families that live in other EU member states.

EODY that is tasked with the identification of vulnerabilities and the provision of primary health care, started being re-staffed from mid-September 2019. Another important consequence of understaffing was the non-identification of people did not have obvious vulnerabilities (victims of torture or sexual violence) as a result of their non-thorough examination.

RSA lawyers had identified cases of asylum-seekers who were examined by non-specialized EODY staff around the end of April – beginning of May 2019 (a period that there were no doctors or psychologists) and this resulted in the non-recognition of their vulnerabilities. This had as a result that special procedural guarantees were not adhered to (with most important their exception from the fast-track border procedure and their referral to the normal procedure under the provisions of Law 4375/2016). It also resulted to the envisaged material reception conditions and health care for vulnerable refugees not being provided. The vulnerability of the above-mentioned asylum-seekers was recognized by the competent authorities several months later and only for those where review applications were submitted by their lawyers. In some cases, the recognition of the vulnerability took place following the completion of their interview under the border procedure.

Legal Assistance for a limited number of refugees

Currently, there are 12 NGOs with a total 32 Greeks and 10 foreign lawyers – among them RSA – that provide free legal assistance and advice to asylum-seekers on Lesvos[28] – focusing depending on the program that they are implementing on different groups and legal assistance and without having permanent presence and capacity. Because of the overcrowding, legal support and intervention is possible in essence for a very limited number of asylum-seekers, resulting in hundreds of others being at risk of having their asylum claim rejected, possible detention and deportation.

Asterios Kanavos, RSA lawyer underlines: “Until recently, there was only one lawyer for the appeals legal assistance registry for 18.000 asylum-seekers. From the beginning of the year, this lawyer is reportedly not taking any new cases and will be on suspended duty for the next couple of months. This in essence cancels the provision for the granting of free legal assistance by the state”.

The recent law 4636/2019 (official gazette 169/A/1-11-2019) entered into force on 1 January and has been widely criticized by human rights organizations for the lack of procedural guarantees. The new comers’ should register their asylum claim within seven days otherwise their will to asylum will be archived. The short deadlines already led to the rejection of some asylum claims in a period of two weeks without an examination of the cases in the substance and without the provision of free legal aid leading to the cancellation of the right to appeal.

Arbitrary detention practices

As of 18 December 2019, 95 individuals were being held at the Moria Pre-removal Detention Centre (P.R.D.C.). The centre has capacity for 210 people. Among those were 56 asylum-seeker including 42 detained in the framework of the detention of asylum-seekers originating from countries considered as ‘low refugee profile’[29].

The remaining 39 detained persons were either held for the purposes of readmission or had signed to a programme of Voluntary Return and Reintegration of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or had submitted subsequent asylum claims for which the examination of their admissibility is pending.[30] On 6 January, a 31-year-old Iranian detainee was found hanged inside the P.R.D.C. where he was being detained for the purposes of return.

It is worth noting that in the period between 15 and 20 November 2019, seven legal aid organizations – including RSA – operating on the island of Lesvos found out that the Regional Asylum Office (‘RAO’) of Lesvos had, without any prior notice, served negative asylum decisions on 28 asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan African countries without conducting the legally mandatory asylum interview by the competent authorities. The Administration justified its decision on the basis of its ‘inability’ to secure interpretation for languages spoken by the asylum seekers. As underlined by the legal aid organization this was an ‘unprecedented administrative practice of the Regional Asylum Office of Lesvos, which goes against Greek, European and International law’[31].

The organizations also highlighted that this unprecedented practice of the Administration came to serve the purposes of another arbitrary practice which has been ‘tested’ on the island of Lesvos since mid-2016. Specifically, 27 of the 28 rejected applicants mentioned above have been arbitrarily detained at the Lesvos P.R.D.C. since the first day of their arrival in Greece, as part of the program of detention of applicants considered as coming from ‘low refugee profile’ countries.

A man from an African country held until recently at Lesvos P.R.D.C. within the framework of this pilot programme described exhausted: «I arrived in Greece to seek protection. Immediately after being registered by police, I was placed in prison. Do they now respect human rights in Greece? I have been persecuted in my country and I would like to talk about all this, but they rejected me without listening what I have been through. I thought that asylum is an individual right».

Efi Latsoudi, social scientist for RSA notes: «The pain and desperation we see in their faces are difficult to describe, it is beyond words. When someone is held for a prolonged period and sometimes already from the time of arrival and being threatened with return, to apply for voluntary return is a way out from the prolonged detention and what it means for the physical and mental health of the person who experiences (this situation)» .

Significant difficulties have also been observed in relation to the access of the lawyers to P.R.D.C. due to the understaffing in police personnel that guards the centre as well as problems with the access of those detained to pharmaceutical care.


At a time, that the Special Reception Secretary Manos Logothetis estimates that in 2020 asylum-seekers’ arrivals from the Turkish shores will reach 100,000 people, the former alternate Minister for Citizen’s Protection and now deputy Minister for Migration Policy George Koumoutsakos reassures in an interview with international media that «from Greece there will be no more tough pictures» and hopes that arrivals will be reduced because of the winter and this will allow the authorities to improve the conditions. The situation that exists at the moment on Lesvos and the other Aegean islands’ hotspots illustrates for once more time the tragic consequences of the EU-Turkey deal and the related police that have placed in a hostage situation thousands of lives in the past four years and fuelled xenophobic reflections in local societies. Characteristically, mobilizations have been scheduled for 22 January on Lesvos, Chios and Samos from the Region of North Aegean with a central slogan «We want back our islands, we want back our lives ». [32]Neither, the new detention centres envisaged by the government nor the indirect policy of deterring refugee and migration flows through the dire conditions in the hotspots constitute the solution

RSA and PRO ASYL are demanding a large-scale relocation programme from Greece: the hotspots must be cleared. Those seeking protection must be transferred to the mainland, temporarily accommodated in dignity until they are quickly transferred to other EU states. In view of the precarious reception situation on the mainland, everything possible must be done with European support to ensure that decent standards are created there.

The two organizations also call Greece to abandon the recently announced measures for the creation of closed centres with capacity for thousands of individuals and extensive detention that will breach blatantly the rights of refugees and migrants and will intensify xenophobic reactions – that have been created to a great extent due to the toxic impact of the EU-Turkey deal- in local communities

RSA and PRO ASYL appeal for unaccompanied underage refugees from Greece to be admitted quickly in Germany and other European countries – in the best interest of the child! Willing countries could use the existing legal route within[KG1] the framework of the Dublin procedure in the interest of child protection.

Finally, RSA and PRO ASYL demand that family reunification of asylum-seekers with relatives in Germany should no longer be systematically undermined. Germany systematically rejects applications for take-over by family members from Greece on the grounds that time limits have expired. Under the catastrophic living conditions in the Greek hotspots, there is no rule of law. Parents and children have hardly chances to exercise their right to family reunification.


  1. According to the Greek Authorities, 21.480 refugees and migrants live in Lesvos. Source:
  2. Citizens’ protection Ministerial decision 1140 dated 20.12.2019 continues the geographical restriction policy for a the newcomers asylum seekers on the islands of Lesvos, Kos, Samos, Chios and Rhodes. Source: a report published by the Greek Council for Refugees in December 2019, it was stated that according to information from the hotspot’s Deputy Director following the fire of September 2019, the capacity of the hotspot was for 2,440 people. Source: 
  3. Source: Weekly Snapshot 9-15 December 2019
  4. According to recent information provided by the Greek authorities to the media on 2 January 2020, the population of the Moria hotspot consisted of 36% men, 29% women and 35% children including unaccompanied minors. The main countries of origin of the residents were: Afghanistan (73%), Syria (12%) and Somalia (5%).Source:
  5. During his visit to Samos and Lesvos on 19 of January, two days after taking office, the Minister on Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis stressed that the government’s priority is to reduce the flow of migrants to the islands, without mentioning the major issue of decongestion  
  6. Of those arriving in Lesvos, 8.089 persons were transferred to structures within Greece in 2017, 14.135 in 2018 and 13.406 in 2019.See:
  7. In the fall of 2018, RSA had already mentioned particularly critical situation at the Moria hotspot. See:
  8. In mid-December 2019, the Public Power Cooperation (DEI) placed two new lines in the hotspot to meet the needs created by the overcrowding inside the camp.
  9. Based on the UNHCR handbook on emergency sanitation standards, for ‘post-emergency’ situations the ratio is 1 toilet per 20 persons and a shower per 50. See:
  10. Young Afghan girl publishes a series of testimonies entitled “Letter to the world from Moria” on the website of the organisation Infomobile. See:
  11. The forensic report is expected to be published
  12. On September 24, 2019, a van swept away and kills a five-year-old Afghan boy in a place outside Moria. The child was playing in a cardboard box in the backyard of a building used by a business and NGO that distributed essentials at the Moria hotspot. A few days later, on September 29, 2019, an Afghan woman lost her life in a fire that broke out in the container she was living. On November 25, 2019, an Afghan man died from a heart attack in Moria hotspot.
  13. In October 2019, there were only two police officers per shift to supervise the whole hotspot and the area outside. Source: Report of the Greek Council for Refugee son the situation of refugees in Lesvos
  15. In both cases, following an RSA intervention, the refugees were transferred to a secure structure outside the hotspot.
  16. Written answer , 19.12.2019
  17. 19.12.2019 Statement by Médecins Sans Frontières on access to health care for asylum seekers and undocumented persons in Greece, 
  18. According to Médecins Sans Frontières , nearly 50.000 people are left without access to health care, including new arrivals from land and sea borders, undocumented persons and infants born in Greece19.12.2019 Statement by Médecins Sans Frontières on access to health care for asylum seekers and undocumented persons in Greece. See note above.
  21. 132 unaccompanied children are hosted by NGO Iliaktida in shelters appropriate for their age. Source: UNCHR, 18.12.2019. Following his visit to Lesvos and Athens in November 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has described the situation of children on the move as ‘an emergency’ and called the Greek authorities to provide them with accommodation in safe structures. Source:
  22. Source:
  23. See: Of the children of families currently hosted in the ESTIA program apartments, 195 are school-aged and 70 are enrolled in formal education, at all levels. 19 are attending kindergarten, 42 are in elementary school and 9 are enrolled in middle and secondary school. In Kara Tepe, there are 400 school-aged children. Because the Structures for the Reception and Education of Refugee Children (DYEP) are not yet operational, there are only 39 children who attend morning reception classes. The rest, benefit from non-formal education courses provided in the reception facility from METAdrasi, a UNHCR partner and SOS Children’s Villages. Regarding the number of morning classes, there are 7 morning reception classes in the primary and 4 in the secondary education that serve children from Kara Tepe, PIKPA, Iliaktida as well as individual cases of children not staying with their families in reception centres, but rent autonomously an apartment, hosted etc. Source: UNHCR, 13.01.2020.
  25. See.;
  26. The child and her family’s legal support takes place in the framework of a support programme by RSA in cooperation with Médecins Sans Frontières.
  27. For those workers, the Greek Manpower Employment Organization had announced a four-month extension that has so far not been implemented, with the result that contracts for 250 employees have already begun to expire.
  28. The number of lawyers (Greek and foreign) in detail:
    METAdrasi(4), Greek Refugee Council (4), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (5), Danish Refugee Council (1) PRAKSIS (3), Iliaktida (3), Lesvos Legal Center (2 and 2 foreigners), Refugee Support Aegean (2), Diotima (3), Defense for Children International (1), Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid (1 and 5 foreigners), European Lawyers in Lesvos (3 and 3 foreigners)
    Source: UNHCR, 18.12.2019.
  29. See :
  30. Source: UNHCR, 18.12.2019
  31. The organizations representing the 28 applicants lodged appeals against the negative first instance decisions.
  32. A protest was also scheduled for January 23 outside the Ministry of Interior in Athens.

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