Greek Island ‘On The Verge Of An Explosion’ – ShelterBox Work Disrupted By Unrest

Refugees waiting in the harbour area of the island capital, Mytinini.

Refugees waiting in the harbour area of the island capital, Mytinini.


As the Greek government and the UN bring in staff and ships to deal with around 25,000 refugees stranded on the island of Lesbos, ShelterBox considers its position amid tensions that Greece’s Immigration Ministry has described as ‘on the verge of an explosion’

In the last two days the Greek island of Lesbos has become the latest focal point of Europe’s refugee crisis. With an estimated 25,000 people awaiting registration papers and onward travel to the Greek mainland, there have been protests and marches in transit camps and at the island’s main harbour.

A team from ShelterBox is on Lesbos to help the UN and colleague charities improve conditions for the island’s growing transient population of Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees.

Yesterday there were reports of refugees setting fire to partially constructed registration containers in Kara Tepe camp, the largest on the island. Kara Tepe has been the main focus of ShelterBox’s work – originally intended to accommodate hundreds, this barren area of scrubland and olive grove has become a temporary home for thousands over recent weeks. But many families find themselves waiting two weeks or more to move on.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett, and response team volunteers Jennifer Butte-Dahl and Jack Bailey, have been putting up a hundred large UN-style tents in camps to give children, the sick and the elderly better respite conditions. They are also deploying netting to provide large areas of shade from daytime temperatures, which can reach 40 degrees.

Shelterbox has sent 100 UN spec tents and 100's of metres of shade cloth to Lesbos

Shelterbox has sent 100 UN spec tents and 100’s of metres of shade cloth to Lesbos


But work was suspended yesterday amid unrest, and colleagues from the charity International Rescue Committee (IRC) were forced to halt work on improving sanitation facilities. Another charity baked and distributed 1,500 loaves of bread to feed the crowds.  

Jack Bailey says, ‘The security situation means we had to suspend work yesterday, and it is frustrating not to be able to help these desperate families.Small, but mostly peaceful, protests and marches have broken out, borne of frustration at the lack of reliable information about the registration process, and where to book ferry tickets.’

‘Our team attended meetings at Police headquarters yesterday to hear about the arrival of more officials to streamline the processing of applications. There will also be more ferries from the port in Mytiline to help people on the next stage of their journeys.’

Last evening Greek TV reported scenes of chaos when up to 6,000 refugees attempted to board the ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’, a cruise liner pressed into action as transport to the mainland. The surge was such that the vessel had to raise its gangplanks after it had docked.

Syrians and non-Syrians will be expedited through the registration process in the coming days. A new processing centre is being set up on an abandoned football ground, and 60 coastguard officials and Athens police have been seconded. 6,200 refugees are scheduled to have their applications processed and then to board waiting ferries from today. It is estimated that numbers on the island may become more manageable over the next 4-5 days.


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