Cite as: Jauhiainen, J., 2017. Asylum seekers in Lesvos, Greece, 2016–2017. Turun yliopiston maantieteen ja geologian laitoksen julkaisuja (PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY OF UNIVERSITY OF TURKU), No.6.
INTRODUCTION AND KEY FINDINGS
The island of Lesvos, Greece, in the Eastern Mediterranean is a key entry location for people seeking asylum in the European Union. In 2015, over half a million asylum seekers traveled through Lesvos. They continued the journey toward the mainland Greece and other destinations in the European Union. In 2015, about 1.3 million asylum applications were presented in the European Union (UNHCR 2016). Following the EU-Turkey Agreement of 18 March 2016, the amount of asylum seekers diminished substantially. In 2016, 173,450 asylum seekers arrived from Turkey to Greece via sea borders and most of them through Lesvos (UNHCR 2017b). The island of Lesvos as such is rather small. Its size is 1,600 square kilometers. Its resident population is 86,000, including the largest town Mytilene with 38,000 inhabitants. However, the island is located at only ten kilometers west from the eastern mainland coast of Turkey. This location at the border of the European Union attracts and facilitates the arrival of asylum seekers (Figure 1). Also other Greek islands near Turkey receive asylum seekers. However, their amount is substantially lower than that in Lesvos (UNHCR 2016). In general, the arrival of asylum seekers to Lesvos and other Greek islands depends on the agreements between the European Union and Turkey, e.g., how efficiently Turkey prevents the departure of asylum seekers from its coastal areas.
This research report “Asylum Seekers in Lesvos, Greece, 2016–2017” shows the preliminary findings of a research about the asylum seekers’ situation in Lesvos between the late 2016 and the early 2017. The key research topics are the processes, practices and experiences of asylum seekers in Lesvos and how related authorities and organizations are dealing with them. Asylum seeker aspirations and journeys from their home areas to their destination countries are studied. The research is connected to a broader research project about the future of urbanization, mobility and immigration in Europe and, in particular, Finland. The research is funded by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. It was conducted by the research consortium URMI (Urbanization, Mobilities and Immigration, see www.urmi.fi). Professor Jussi S. Jauhiainen (email@example.com) from the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of Turku, Finland, is the director of the URMI consortium and the author of this report. The research was conducted in December 2016 and March 2017 among the asylum seekers in Lesvos. They responded to a survey and were interviewed inside or at the immediate vicinity of three locations on this island where the asylum seekers were placed. Among various stakeholders in Lesvos, there are different expressions regarding the locations where the asylum seekers wait until the initial part of their asylum application is processed. Many asylum seekers and also the media calls these sites “refugee camps”. This is not entirely correct since the vast majority of 6 Asylum seekers in Lesvos, Greece, 2016–2017 the asylum seekers have not yet received asylum and thus are not yet refugees. In fact, rather few of them will ever receive the official international status of a refugee. The notion of “camp” refers correctly, at least partly, to the sites’ temporary character. However, the sites function for years and have also buildings that have been used earlier for other purposes for a long time. Also, some documents label these places “reception and identification centers”. Some even call them “detention centers”. There are major differences between the sites. Some sites are open and host only tens of asylum seekers. Others are guarded, the access is restricted, and may host several thousand asylum seekers. Also the management of the places vary as it is explained in the Chapter 2. In this publication, the definition “asylum seeker reception site” or “site” is used for these places irrespective of their size or openness. For the purpose of this research, a survey was conducted in December 2016 among asylum seekers located in the Moria, Kara Tepe and PIKPA (Lesvos Solidarity) asylum seeker reception sites in Lesvos. Over 500 asylum seekers responded to this semi-structured survey. In addition, 54 interviews were conducted in March 2017 among asylum seekers located in the same three sites, namely Moria, Kara Tepe and PIKPA (Lesvos Solidarity). This report illustrates general findings – however, the analysis continues. We are grateful to all asylum seekers who contributed to this research by responding to the survey and allowing us interview them. Also, authorities in the PIKPA (Lesvos Solidarity) and Kara Tepe asylum seeker reception sites showed interest and facilitated the conducting of the research.
The key findings of this report are:
• Lesvos has been and continues to be a significant entry point for many asylum seekers to the European Union. • The arrival of asylum seekers in Lesvos is facilitated by smugglers in Turkey, creating an illegal business with an annual turnover of tens to hundreds of millions of Euros.
• Most asylum seekers stay in the reception sites in Lesvos for several months, having no idea what their future will be. They feel that they are governed from above without possibilities to influence how they are categorized and treated, and whether, how or when their asylum application is being processed.
• The living conditions in Lesvos are very challenging for asylum seekers, and especially poor is the Moria reception site; however, they are better at the Kara Tepe site and the PIKPA site.
• Of the studied asylum seekers, only one out of six (16%) feel safe at the Moria site. Slightly more feel safe at the Kara Tepe site (22%) and majority (55%) at the PIKPA site. At the Moria site, one out of four (25%) asylum seekers feels well-treated, and every second person at the Kara Tepe site (46%) likewise at the PIKPA site (59%). At the Moria site, one out of seven people (15%) feel that they have enough toilets and showers, etc., for their use. At the Kara Tepe site, one out of five (22%), and at the PIKPA site, half (56%) of asylum seekers are satisfied with these facilities.
• Very few (7%) asylum seekers plan to return to their former home country. If returned by force, many will try again to enter the European Union. Germa- 8 Asylum seekers in Lesvos, Greece, 2016–2017 ny is the most wished-for destination for every second (48%) asylum seeker. Six out of seven (86%) asylum seekers would like to work in Europe. Their skills vary, however, many have a potential niche in the European employment market. A challenge is their access to the mainland Greece and further to other European Union countries. An additional challenge comes from the different labor policies that the European Union applies for asylum seekers.
• Social media is the most important communication tool for asylum seekers on their journey to Europe. Two out of five (42%) argue that social media and the Internet makes their life easier in Lesvos. In Lesvos, most (60%) asylum seekers use the Internet at least several times a week. Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber are the most important channels. The usage of social media is vital during the practicalities of the asylum journey. The use is related to everyday communication with family, relatives and friends in their country of origin and elsewhere, also in the European Union. • There should be more resources to manage better the Moria asylum seeker reception site. It is urgent to improve substantially its basic facilities to make the everyday life of asylum seekers more decent. Even small inexpensive enhancements, such as the provision of complimentary speed Wi-Fi access to the Internet, would be useful.
• Asylum seekers need to be treated well, respectfully and individually taking into account everyone’s needs. If the asylum application is rejected, the responsible authorities must provide a safe and meaningful return for the asylum seeker to the country of origin.