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Every day, boatloads of people fleeing war and poverty arrive on the small Greek Island of Lesbos from Turkey. After paying traffickers sums of nearly 1,000 euros each, the passengers risk their lives on a dangerous voyage with no guarantees, often at night and in unfavorable weather conditions.
Some are lucky enough to arrive on beaches where groups of volunteers from all over Europe await them, while others arrive beneath inhospitable and solitary cliffs. It is estimated that more than 4,000 people who attempted the crossing did not make it to the Greek coast in 2015. Those that do arrive are moved to Moria Camp, where they receive help from international NGOs.
Oxfam started its operations in Greece in September 2015, as the humanitarian situation for people arriving from Turkey was rapidly worsening. Oxfam has been providing food and water, plus daily essentials, like sleeping bags, winter clothes and blankets to refugees and migrants in its programs. In Moria camp in particular the hygiene and sanitary conditions are very poor, and Oxfam commissioned the construction of a block of toilets.
Since the beginning of 2016, an average of around 1,700 people have reached the Greek shores every single day.
In March, as a result of a large increase in people arriving in Moria, the Greek authorities transformed the reception facilities into detention centers. People are now being held pending their mass return to Turkey, following the deal struck between the EU and Turkey*.
Furthermore, the Macedonian border crossing, where thousands of people had been arriving from Moria Camp to obtain authorization to cross on foot into the former Yugoslav Republic, has been closed.
There are now more than 50,000 refugees currently stranded in Greece.
"There is nothing worse than living in a war": Ahmed, Narmun and Sara’s stories
Ahmed and Fatima** are from the city of Hassaka, Syria. Together with their two year old son and 42 other people, they took the boat from Ezrin, in Turkey, to the Greek island of Lesbos. 22 days earlier they had left their native city where they could no longer live because of the war.
"We are farmers but no one can live there anymore. There is no food in the shops; there is nothing to eat", says Ahmed. They arrived in Lesbos at dawn after being rescued by the Greek Coast Guard, which began operating in the Aegean a few days ago. He says he has not slept in two days, so he is exhausted. Ahmed is not afraid of anything that lies ahead. Here he feels safe. "There is nothing worse than living in a war", he says.
Narmun, 45 years old, is from Mosul, Iraq. He is travelling with his wife and 7 children. The eldest is 15 years old. They are Yazidis from Mosul in Iraq. Yazidism is a religion similar to Christianity and believers face persecution in Iraq. They cannot have anything registered in their name. "They kill us. They kidnap our children. They have tried to eliminate us, the Yazidis, 74 times throughout history. Today, when we crossed the sea it was the 75th time", Narmun quips.
They arrived in Greece at night in a boat with 60 people, 25 of them children. "In the boat, we saw death", says Narmun. It took them 3 hours to cross the Aegean and they were very frightened. They paid 800 dollars per person.
Mazen, 30 years old, is Muslim and Sara, 19 years old, is Christian, and their marriage is not seen as acceptable in Syria. Sara left her mother and two sisters in Syria. Her father died in the war. She studied English literature in the University of Aleppo and Mazen worked in a mobile phone shop. They had left the city of Aleppo two months ago.
"We love our country, but you cannot live there anymore. You hear bombs all the time. Every minute, an explosion. The first night in Turkey surprised me because you heard no bombing. Total silence. At first, when I saw airplanes, I got scared", says Sara.
You can help
Like Ahmed, Fatima and Narmun, millions of people are being forced to flee their homes. More than half a million people have arrived so far this year in Europe.
Border closures and push-backs are just forcing them to continue their journey underground. Once in the hands of smugglers, these already vulnerable people are even further out of the reach of help from governments and NGOs, putting them at great risk of abuse, exploitation, enslavement and sexual violence.
We ask the EU and the Government of Turkey to respect the fundamental rights of refugees and agree to new ways to provide safe and legal routes for people in need of protection.
We work and deliver assistance in nine out of the 10 top source countries for refugees globally. But we urgently need your help to reach more people affected by conflict in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and closer to home in Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Italy.
*Oxfam has recently suspended all of its operations in Moria camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, in response to the deteriorating treatment of migrants and severe movement restriction due to the recent deal struck between the EU and Turkey. We will still continue to monitor the welfare of those in Moria and remain in active dialogue with the authorities in Greece and in the EU (last update March 29th).
** All names changed for protection reasons.