Conditions in the new migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos are becoming more difficult as winter approaches. Many still have to wash in the sea or with containers of water in "showers" they have built themselves.
A wooden pallet, cardboard, some plastic sheeting, an old sleeping bag and some water containers: This is what you need to take a shower in the temporary tent camp for asylum seekers on Lesbos island.
More than two months after around 7,000 women, men and children moved into the facility when the nearby Moria camp was gutted by fire, there are still no showers for men in the tent camp, a resident 'S.' has told InfoMigrants.
Many people have resorted to making their own washing facilities – the alternative is the cold, salt water of the Aegean sea, which surrounds the roughly triangular camp on two sides.
Greek authorities have said repeatedly that the camp will be temporary. Now however, the migration ministry says that a new permanent facility will not be ready before the summer of 2021.
The residents in the Lesbos camp will remain there throughout the winter, sheltering in the tents that are poorly adapted for cold conditions, without heating or hot water.
"One month ago they put in plastic showers for women," 'S' told InfoMigrants on WhatsApp. "Actually these showers don’t have hot water. The women have to take their own hot water by themself. But in this time we don’t have electricity to make hot water."
Arezoo, a 15-year-old Afghan migrant, confirmed to the AFP news agency that the electricity supply to the camp is intermittent. He described the condition of the toilets as "disgusting."
Sanitation works begun
The government this week informed the camp residents that work was starting on the installation of a sanitation and drainage system for the entire camp.
"In order to ensure everything runs smoothly and to avoid any unnecessary interruptions we require your cooperation and patience," said a message, sent to asylum seekers via a phone app.
The tent camp, which was erected quickly in September to accommodate the asylum seekers left without shelter when the Moria camp burned to the ground, was flooded a month later.
Work has been ongoing to try to reduce the risk of flooding as well as to winterize tents, according to the migration ministry. Notis Mitarakis, the migration minister, told InfoMigrants earlier this month that the camp was operating properly and that the work to improve conditions was proceeding as fast as possible.
However, Astrid Castelein, the head of the UN refugee agency’s team in Lesbos, said gaps remained that need to be swiftly addressed before the onset of winter. She said the UNHCR had asked the authorities in the Lesbos capital of Mytilene to allow the most vulnerable asylum seekers to be transferred to a local accommodation center that has empty prefabricated containers.
COVID threat increasing
Meanwhile, residents and medical staff at the camp have expressed concern about the risk of COVID-19 during the winter months. It is impossible to maintain physical distancing or to wash hands frequently, and there is limited access to medical care at the facility.
"Everybody is terrified in the camp. I'm also afraid of the pandemic, it's deadly," 30-year-old Jean-Pierre from Cameroon told AFP.
A doctor working at the camp, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the news agency: "People light fires to keep warm as there is no heating, and then come to visit us with breathing issues. All vulnerable cases are getting worse day by day."