The Crisis on the Island of Lesvos
In the period beginning on January 1, 2015 and running to the implementation of an agreement between the EU and Turkey intended to limit the number of migrants crossing from that country into Greece, upon arrival, and after a long, arduous walk through mountainous terrain without housing or bathroom facilities, the migrants would arrive in Mytilene where they would be processed and registered. During this time, Lesvos was nothing more than a transit point for the migrants; a place they would stay for a week or two until they could board a ferry to Athens on the Greek mainland.
This situation changed drastically when the aforementioned agreement went into effect, and migrants were no longer permitted to proceed from Lesvos to mainland Greece to seek asylum; rather, from that point on they were first required to have their application approved prior to their travel to Athens or any other European destination. This resulted in the creation of camps still operating today at which the migrants reside for a period averaging anywhere from 6 to 18 months while their papers are being processed to consider their requests for asylum. The two main locations of these camps are near the harbor town of Mytilene; namely, Camp Moria and Camp Kara Tepe which, although only designed for a combined capacity of 2,700, now together house more than 7,000 migrants.
conditions for women & children on lesvos
Today more than 60,000 migrants remain stranded in Greece as a result of the EU-Turkey Agreement coming into effect in March of 2016, with over half of these being women and children. Many of these women are pregnant, have infants or young children, are heads of households, or are single women traveling on their own to reunite with family members in other countries. In many cases, these women face extreme difficulties in navigating the asylum process due to low literacy, language barriers and their responsibilities to care for their children that reduce their time and mobility. This leaves women and, in many cases children, exposed to gender-based violence (GBV).
The UNHCR has stated that, “although data on incidents of GBV is not systematically collected, service providers and refugee and migrant community members alike report that women and girls experience various forms of GBV in the sites, including domestic violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, forced prostitution, survival sex, early marriage, and trafficking.” The organization further reports that “women, particularly female-heads of households and unaccompanied women, reported that they do not walk around at night or go to the toilets because of fear for their personal safety.”
The opportunity to care
The conditions of the two camps on the island of Lesvos, near Mytilene present an incredible and critical opportunity to serve the most vulnerable of the camps’ residents. The extended timeframe of a migrant’s average stay on the island makes this type of outreach even more important as it gives us a chance to make even more meaningful and impactful relationships. As you have read above herein, the conditions in the camps are horrid -- deplorable; especially for women and children. Many of these migrants have arrived on the island having fled unimaginable episodes of war, only then to endure a perilous and hair-raising journey in their escape to safety; and, now find themselves as residents of a facility that breeds even more abuse and trauma. These women and children are vulnerable, open to and needful of love, care, affection, community, a sense of belonging and dignity. Knowing that we may be the first westerners these women and children have ever encountered, it is critical that we are there to meet them in the midst of their struggles.
g2l's community center on Lesvos
Our Community Center for Women & Children on Lesvos is located directly next door to Camp Kara Tepe, the location where the vast majority of refugee women, children and families reside. It will be a place of love, care, community, safety, respect, hope and dignity where women can:
- Find a place of peace and solace where they can relax outside of the camp setting;
- Drink tea and eat biscuits in community with friends, other refugees and representatives of G2L;
- Utilize the only laundry facility on the island available to refugees to use for free; including, the use of commercial washers/dryers, laundry detergent, fabric softener, etc.;
- Bring their children to participate in activities, games, creative learning opportunities, singing, playing, watching videos, etc. to find a moment of joy and hope in the midst of chaotic and uncertain lives;
- Receive clothing and other needed items for their entire families;
- Receive free diapers and wipes for their babies each day;
- Come out of the heat or cold to find a safe, comfortable environment where they can use the free wi-fi and charge their mobile devices;
- Utilize the “Women’s Corner” where they can care for and breast feed their baby in privacy;
- Use the toilet facilities and sinks – including, a Turkish toilet – in privacy and safety;
- Find staff and workers who truly care about them amidst their personal struggles and ordeal, developing relationships sufficient for them to be able to share their stories and begin to overcome the trauma that haunts them;
- Obtain information about local services and opportunities; e.g., language learning, activities, events, public assistance, asylum paperwork translation and advice, etc.;
- Receive counseling and resources for trauma related to life events from their home country and/or journey, life in the camps, dealing with sexual assault and other issues