Migrants clash with riot police while protesting to demand better living conditions at the Moria asylum center on Lesvos Island, July 18, 2017. Credit: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS
Migrants clash with riot police while protesting to demand better living conditions at the Moria asylum center on Lesvos Island, July 18, 2017. Credit: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS

A day of strikes and protests began on Monday on the Greek island of Lesvos, with local authorities shutting down completely to try and deliver a message to the government and beyond about the worsening migrant crisis.

"The situation has reached a breaking point, fueling insecurity among citizens", Lesvos mayor Spyros Galinos declared. On Lesbos, reception centers are bursting at the seams after a huge spike in refugee arrivals on boats from Turkey in recent months. The situation on Chios and Samos is comparably tense. 

Galinos called for a general strike, stating that the island needs to "remove the noose that is currently around its neck". Local authorities on Lesvos want the government to speed up the movement of migrants from severely overcrowded reception facilities on the island, and in the Aegean islands generally, to the mainland. 

Mayor Galinos, 'government must act' 

"The time has come for action [from the government]; they must ease the pressure and unblock approximately 8,500 refugees and immigrants living in temporary structures on an island which only has a whole population of 32,000 inhabitants," said Galinos. He added: "The voice of Lesvos must be heard and reach the policy-makers in Athens. We must immediately speed up the flow of people living in miserable conditions [to the mainland].Lesvos is not an open prison, nor will anyone be allowed to see it as such." 

Moria turned into "a swamp" 

Meanwhile, the Moria migrant camp woke up in pools of mud on Monday morning after heavy rainfalls. 7,000 refugees and migrants are housed there in a structure built to hold just 2,200 people. The water and sanitation capacities are sufficient for 800 people. Among the residents are more than 500 children under the age of 10 living in tents made for summer weather conditions.

Social media in Greece has exploded with stories of migrant children falling sick with fever following heavy storms in recent days. Local Lesvos solidarity group 'Coexistence and Communication in the Aegean' released a strongly-worded statement of Monday saying: "Lesvos, which represents 0.3 percent of Greece's population, is currently hosting 10 percent of its refugees. This analogy must be immediately rectified." 

The statement added: "We will not tolerate refugees and migrants experiencing a worse winter than last year, when many of them were staying in tents built for summer weather, laying in the cold and mud. The transfer of vulnerable groups (families, unaccompanied minors) to mainland Greece and rental of proper rooms, hotels and residences for the Moria issue needs to happen now." Human rights groups are also increasingly concerned that the situation will give rise to xenophobic and racist behavior among minority extremist groups. 

Slow going on returns 

In related developments, according to government figures, approximately 16,000 migrants have been relocated to the mainland since October last year. However, many more transfers are needed with dozens continuing to arrive. At the same time, returns of refugees not eligible for asylum back to Turkey remains painfully slow. Now with the winter weather worsening, the situation is exacerbated, with growing concerns among human rights groups - as well as the public at large - about hundreds of migrants living in tents outside reception centers.

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