Forgotten Lesbos? British activists highlight worsening refugee crisis on Greek island

Refugees and migrants arrive aboard the passenger ferry Blue Star Patmos from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, October 29, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined campaigners at a “Refugees Welcome Here” rally in London on Wednesday. The protest came as the mayor of Lesbos claims the Greek island has run out of room to bury refugees’ bodies.

Corbyn joined the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Diane Abbott and hundreds of activists to rally in support of refugees.

Activists are calling on European governments to find a political solution to the crisis that will offer refuge to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing warzones and repression in the Middle East and Africa.

The rally comes days after the mayor of Lesbos, in the east Aegean Sea, told local radio the island cannot handle the numbers of refugees arriving.

Mayor Spyros Galinos told Greece’s Vima FM radio on Monday there are more than 50 bodies in the Lesbos morgue and he was still trying to find a burial location for them.

A record 27,000 refugees arrived in Lesbos last week, according to a Save the Children worker based on the island.

Greece overtook Italy as the European country with the most new migrants arriving per day in late July.

Days before, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras signed a bailout package with European creditors which forced a new round of draconian budget cuts on the country. The fresh austerity policies made what limited funds were already available for refugees almost non-existent.

Dutch volunteer Merel Graeve, 27, who is helping at the refugee center in Moria, told RT on Tuesday night that the camp cannot accommodate all the people arriving.

Moria has been very quiet for a few days but has been booming again since this morning. The ticketing system is a little better than before, but it is still very flawed and creates a lot of problems still.”

With the sudden influx of people today, Moria is full again so we left this evening with many people and families sleeping outside, including babies. There were not enough blankets, not enough food and the small amount of sheltering is an ongoing problem.”

Graeve, who is a set decorator in the Netherlands, said new shelters are being built, but not quickly enough.

The sanitation is also a huge problem, we’ve started seeing cases of scabies. The toilet and shower facilities are incredibly, unbelievably bad and dirty. Moria needs sanitation, more sheltering and better organization before the winter hits.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), told RT the camp was crowded because of a four-day ferry strike on the island.

We have repeatedly said for months that the reception conditions in the Greek islands are inadequate and the government and European Union must do more to improve it. The government operates the center – UNHCR is there to support and advise. We are in Greece at the invitation of the government,” he said.

In a recent Huffington Post UK blog, journalist Lliana Bird quoted a volunteer doctor on the ground in Lesbos describing the dire situation in the camp last week, when rains swept the island.

There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end. You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead,” Dr. Linda said.

Humanitarian groups say thousands of people are attempting to enter Europe before the winter comes, undeterred by the increasingly harsh conditions.

Winter and rough seas won’t stop desperate people from trying to reach Europe. [But] in the winter, seas will become much more treacherous, likely resulting in greater numbers of deaths,” the International Red Cross said.

Corbyn was one of the politicians who joined union activists and religious leaders at the Refugees Welcome Here rally in central London on Wednesday evening.

According to a Facebook page promoting the event, the demonstration highlights the lack of action by European governments in response to the humanitarian disaster.

There remains no political agreement on finding a solution to the biggest migration of refugees to Europe since WW2,” a Facebook post reads.

Recent EU summits have focused on seeking agreement with Turkey on stopping the flow to Europe of refugees, but no agreement on how [to] provide protection to many thousands still stranded in Hungary, Calais and other parts of the EU. With winter approaching, people are desperate,” it read.

Trade union representatives from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Union of Students (NUS) also took part in the rally, along with religious leader Rabbi Lee Wax and Talha Ahmad of the Muslim Council of Britain.