Refugees walk in the snow at the Moria refugees camp on Lesvos Island, Greece, 9 January 2017. 
Refugees walk in the snow at the Moria refugees camp on Lesvos Island, Greece, 9 January 2017. EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS

Unions on the Greek island of Lesbos will take to the streets February 7, striking to demand closure of the island's Moria refugee camp, which human rights groups and NGOs have deemed "overcrowded and squalid."

Labour unions on the Greek island of Lesvos, in the northeast Aegean Sea, have announced they will hold a strike and protest rally on February 7 to demand the closure of the migrant reception center at Moria. The notorious camp, which is home to close to 7,000 asylum seekers and migrants, is a constant source of criticism from NGOs and human rights groups for the "squalid, overcrowded conditions." 

Local community groups and labour unions have been campaigning unsuccessfully for the last 12 months to get the camp shut down. The protest on February 7 will be held at 6:30 pm local time in the centrally located Sappho Square. 

Praise for locals' 'unwavering solidarity' 

Lesbos Workers Union President Thodoris Aslanidis told reporters he welcomed the protest initiative by sister organizations on nearby Samos, and said their demand is for the Moria camp to be "closed down indefinitely." Aslanidis praised the people of Lesbos for their "unwavering solidarity with the refugees, which has been showed continuously since the ongoing migrant crisis began in 2015." He called on the islanders to isolate political perceptions that foster racism. He said that while there must be solidarity, "it is the government's duty to ensure decent living conditions for refugees." 

Migrant numbers remain high, transfers to mainland slow 

Another point for concern for the locals on Lesbos is the painfully slow rate of migrant and refugee transfers from Moria to the mainland, as arrivals from neighboring Turkey continue. Aslanidis called on the islanders to isolate those who cultivate hatred towards migrants and refugees. The rally comes as Hellenic Coast Guard data revealed that there were more than 3,100 arrivals on the Greek islands in the month of December alone. This brought the total number of migrants and refugees in the Aegean to just under 15,000. The majority of people are staying on Lesbos, which has a recorded total of 6,922 people. Moria, the main camp on Lesvos, has been described as "hell on earth" due to the sheer volume of people and the lack of space and infrastructure. 

Athens government admits, Lesbos and Samos create problems 

Last week, Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas admitted that conditions on both Lesvos and Samos are causing big problems, and said efforts are being made to transfer more migrants to more suitable facilities on the mainland quicker. Describing the situation on the mainland, Vitsas said around 25,000 migrants have been placed in apartments and 7,000 are staying in hotels and other kinds of tourist lodgings. Additionally, "between 18,000 and 20,000" are living at state-run camps in Athens, Thessaloniki and other areas. 

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