Up to 1,000 refugees a day are arriving on the island of Lesbos, with the majority from Syria and Afghanistan.
Al Jazeera, by Nick Barnets, August 8
Lesbos – At the Kara Tepe refugee camp, a recent arrival named Ahmed talks about his plans for the future. “I want to go to Germany or Amsterdam,” says Ahmed, who asked that his real name be concealed out of concern for his family back home in Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. “In Raqqa, I had a nice house, a car, and they took everything from me. They even killed my cousin,” he says, pulling up a cell phone photo of the man and breaking down in tears. Ahmed had arrived the previous day at Kara Tepe, a squalid makeshift collection of tents, trash, and flies that has housed around 700 refugees at any given time since the main camp a few kilometers away became overwhelmed. Kara Tepe is the kind of camp that could exist in conflict zones in many parts of the world, but it’s not in a conflict zone: it’s in Greece, on the Aegean island of Lesbos.
Since the beginning of this year, Greece has seen a dramatic increase in the arrival of migrants. Although the country has been in the news most recently for its debt crisis and its contentious role within the EU, a different kind of crisis is also brewing. According to UNHCR, over the past eight months nearly 124,000 refugees have crossed into Greece from Turkey. Most are Syrian and Afghans fleeing violence at home. For many of them, the aim is to relocate to any place inside Europe where they can get a job and start a new life. They typically enter the EU through Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, and in particular Lesbos, Kos, and Chios. The island of Lesbos has been the most heavily burdened, with up to 1,000 refugees arriving per day. Lesbos’ population is just 86,000, and nearly as many refugees have passed through the island in the past year. With little help coming in from the EU or international organizations, this has put an immense strain on local resources.
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