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08 Jul

In January 2023, there were around 1,500 people residing in Mavrovouni refugee camp on Lesvos. By the end of that same year, this had grown to almost 6,000 people. Now, at the end of June 2024, the camp's population is at almost the same level as in early 2023.

We see this wave movement of growth and decline of the population repeatedly over the years. Sometimes, as in 2015 when a large number of people moved to Greece from war-ravaged Syria, this is related to emerging or escalating conflict. More often, it is a result of hiccups in the (asylum) system or political decisions.

In the second half of 2023, the camps on the Greek islands became heavily overcrowded, which had to do with both a steep increase in arrivals and obstruction in the ‘flow’ of people from the islands to the mainland. On the one hand, following the tragedy of the Pylos shipwreck, there was an improvement in the Greek coast guard’s compliance with the prohibition of pushbacks. On the other hand, the asylum system got stuck due to a lack of capacity to register people and a lack of budget for transfers to the mainland. As a result, people were stuck in the camps on the islands for a long time.

Movement began to emerge after the first quarter of this year. The Turkish and Greek coastguards significantly increased their efforts to prevent boats from crossing from Turkey to Greece. In addition, in the run-up to the European elections, the Greek government conducted a targeted campaign to show that it has a grip on the incoming ‘migration flow’. All eyes were on the reception sites on the islands. Many people have been moved from the islands to camps on the mainland. Here, hidden from the eyes of the media and the public – the voters, they reside in camps, under often the same inadequate conditions.

In our clinic on Lesvos, we are temporarily scaling down our staffing a bit, considering the smaller number of patients we see during our daily shifts. At the same time, we realise that things can turn around at any moment and we need to be prepared for a – possibly sudden – increase in the number of people and, thus, patients. Because we see that the gap between the need for care on the one hand and the available supply of care on the other is widening in refugee camps across Greece, while it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations like ours to access the camps. Lesvos is one of the exceptions where the camp management is also mindful of this gap and, for that reason, welcomes organisations that can help bridge it.

We conducted exploratory research in Attica, the region around Athens, where many refugee accommodation facilities are located. People in these locations suffer from a lack of health care and isolation, which makes it difficult to access care available in Athens and nearby cities. At the same time, humanitarian organisations face a wall of prohibition and reluctance, making it extremely difficult and often impossible to provide help within the camps. In coordination with other organisations, we are looking for ways to provide care here, at locations and in ways that make healthcare accessible for everyone in need.

It is more important than ever that we keep doing what we can and keep looking for opportunities to make contributions that matter, that help meet the enormous need. We are grateful to you, the many volunteers, donors, and everyone to whom our work is important and who stands in solidarity with people on the move. You make our work possible. Solidarity and humanity are the answer to the political wind now blowing and affecting so many people, first and foremost those already in vulnerable situations.

People before borders, always.

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