Saturday

31st Oct 2020

Greek island community-run refugee shelters under threat

  • Pikpa is community-led refugee camp on Lesbos island, which offers more humane shelter than that found at the now burnt down Moria camp (Photo: Lesvos Solidarity)

The Greek government is threatening to shut down two community refugee camps on the island of Lesbos.

One of them is Pikpa, which describes itself as an independent self-organised space for people that are in need of extra care.

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Pikpa is a former children's summer camp, transformed in 2012 by Greek locals to help get refugees and asylum seekers off the streets.

Today it is home to some 100 people, including those that identify with the LGBTi community like 37-year old Shahram.

To protect his identity, the last name is not being disclosed.

"I have been living here for almost three months. We feel like a family here together," he told EUobserver by phone on Friday (9 October).

Shahram is from Iran and had arrived alone on the Greek island. He was first shuffled into the now burnt-out EU hotspot camp known as Moria, where he had stayed almost nine months.

"When I first entered Moria, I was shocked. I found myself with more than 20,000 people, all strangers," he said.

Pikpa in comparison is a sanctuary of peace where everyone gets along, said Shahram.

"Everyone is just living. Everyone respects each other, there is no violence."

In 2016, two of Pikpa's founders were awarded the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) humanitarian prize for their efforts.

Now the Greek government wants to shut it down, along with Kara Tepe, another larger community run camp. The Greek authorities did not respond when asked for eviction dates or where it intends to put everyone.

But Shahram worries evictions may start next week and that he will be forced to the new temporary facility that replaced Moria on the island.

As a single LGBTi male, he fears he'll meet the same violence at the new camp he faced in Moria.

Authorities are only moving children and families with children from the new camp to the mainland and elsewhere, leaving single males behind.

"Please save us. Please save Pikpa and please care about us," said Shahram.

Carmen Dupont of Lesvos Solidarity, an NGO operating in Pikpa, said that the camp is also giving back to the local community.

"With the pandemic we have facilitated over €200,000 in donations to the local hospital structures that were not getting support from the authorities," she pointed out.

She said Pikpa has become a shelter for the most vulnerable people on the island, including victims of torture, others suffering from cancer, single women with newborns and unaccompanied minors.

"We are an independent place, we don't accept state, EU funding. We find our own funding," she said, noting the large amounts of EU money going into the EU-funded camp that is now replacing Moria.

The closure announcement was recently made in the Greek press.

Conditions worsen at new EU-funded camp

The EU-funded camp is a tent city for some 10,000 people and sits on the edge of the island, more exposed to the weather.

The commission in September said it was giving the Greek authorities some €750,000 in emergency funding to support immediate humanitarian needs of those left stranded following the Moria fire.

Around a dozen EU states also announced they were donating shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene products, and medical assistance to the new camp.

Those announcements were followed by reports that almost 250 people at the new camp had tested positive for Covid-19.

On Friday, the UNHCR issued a statement saying the conditions at the camp are critical.

"Living conditions in the emergency site remain in urgent need of improvement," it said, noting rains that have flooded areas.

Asked to explain, the European Commission said the new camp is only a temporary measure.

"As the commission is not managing the situation, it is very hard for me to do so," said a spokesperson.

"However also I think it is important to note that the camp was not entirely flooded and so it wasn't a question of a completely inadequate design specifically but simply of a situation which resulted from the rains," he said.

As for the possible closure of Pikpa, he said the Commission is stepping up efforts to support the Greek government to provide adequate shelter for people and the evacuation to the mainland.

"So yes, we definitely care about the people affected by the fires on Lesbos," he said, when asked to respond to Shahram's plea.

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