The island of Lesbos with its Kara Tepe camp has had a bout of severe winter weather | Photo: Elias Marcou/REUTERS
The island of Lesbos with its Kara Tepe camp has had a bout of severe winter weather | Photo: Elias Marcou/REUTERS

The Kara Tepe camp for displaced people on the Greek island of Lesbos is ill-suited for the harsh winter conditions. Aid agencies are sounding the alarm about catastrophic conditions there.

Things have gone from bad to worse at the temporary Kara Tepe camp for displaced people on the Greek island of Lesbos. Residents posted images on the Now_you_see_me_moria Instagram account showing plumes of smoke billowing above the site's white UNHCR tents, as two women desperately call for help.

The accompanying text reads: "Yet another fire at the second Moria camp on Lesbos. Two tents burned down. This is not the first time, it won't be the last. This is because the government does not care about refugees."

Residents of the Moria and Kara Tepe camps are using not only Instagram but a separate platform also called Now You See Me Moria to draw attention to their dire situation. As photographers and television crews from outside are currently not allowed access, these photographs and videos are currently the only way to get information about what life is like inside the camps.

The Kara Tepe camp's location right on the coast means its tents are exposed to frequent storms | Photo: Elias Marcou/REUTERS
The Kara Tepe camp's location right on the coast means its tents are exposed to frequent storms | Photo: Elias Marcou/REUTERS


Last week, camp residents had to endure a sudden, unexpected drop in temperature, with hail and snow descending on Lesbos. Heavy gusts of wind sent tent tarps flying. The island's clay soil prevented the water from draining off, transforming the camps into a muddy mess.

On February 17, UNHCR Greece tweeted: "Αs a cold spell sweeps across Greece, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers living in tents or makeshift shelters on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos [Ed.: an alternative spelling of Lesbos] face freezing temperatures and icy winds in precarious conditions."


Some 15,000 displaced people are currently housed on a handful of Greek islands. Around a half of them live in Kara Tepe on Lesbos. The makeshift site was set up after a fire destroyed much of the Moria camp in September 2020. Kara Tepe is situated on the Mediterranean coast, which is why its residents are regularly exposed to storms and flooding.

Since the Moria fire, camp residents have no longer been permitted to prepare their own meals. Instead, Greece military personnel are in charge of supplying them with food. Kara Tepe is surrounded by barbed wire fencing and under constant surveillance. A strict lockdown has been imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Some 2,500 minors live at the camp.

Coronavirus prevention measures are in force at the Kara Tepe camp | Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Picture-alliance
Coronavirus prevention measures are in force at the Kara Tepe camp | Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Picture-alliance


"Flooded tents, far too few toilets and shows, barely any protection from storms and rain: The newly set-up refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos manifests Europe's failed refugee policy," is the assessment by the German Catholic relief organization CaritasInternational. The group hashelped put up toilets, distributes meals and blankets and offers English lessons and psychological counseling.

It says the camp — designed to eventually accommodate up to 10,000 people — is inadequate for housing even the 7,000 residents currently living there. It says that aside from insufficient sanitary facilities, there is no reliable supply of food and water.

Isabel Schayani, a reporter with German public broadcaster WDR, recently shared a harrowing video on Twitter shot by a resident showing a youngster braving the cold, heavy rain to reach a portable toilet — a feat that is anything but easy in Kara Tepe. Schayani notes in the tweet that it is illegal to make such a video and send it outside the camp. 


Back in December, there was already severe flooding that deluged the tents, set up just months before.

On February 17, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report stating that parts of Kara Tepe were built on ground contaminated with lead. "For seven weeks after the Greek government received test results that showed unsafe lead levels, it took minimal action, and now is continuing to downplay the risk and the need for further action," said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at HRW. 

Germany has taken in more than 1,600 people from Lesbos since March 2020 | Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture-alliance
Germany has taken in more than 1,600 people from Lesbos since March 2020 | Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/picture-alliance


Germany, meanwhile, has taken in additional refugee families from Lesbos. A plane carrying 26 families landed in Hannover on February 17. Germany's Interior Ministry said they made up a total of 53 adults and 63 children. Since March 2020, 1,677 people from Lesbos have been taken in by Germany.

The European Commission says it has increased its funding to €30 million ($36 million) to fly families from Lesbos to other countries. Besides Germany, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Portugal Slovenia, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have said they will accept displaced people from Greece. 

This article has been translated from German.

Author: Astrid Prange

First published: February 23, 2021

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