August 31, 2015 — The arrival of an estimated 4,000 refugees on Lesbos, Greece on Saturday and comparatively high numbers on Sunday, has overwhelmed the collective response effort on the island, says the International Rescue Committee. Similar numbers are expected every day in the week ahead.
Given the record number of arrivals, the authorities limited all official buses transporting refugees to the capital on Sunday because of overcrowding. The number of refugees on the island has rocketed over the past two weeks because of a lack of available space on ferries to take refugees to the mainland during the peak tourist season. More than 13,000 refugees are estimated to currently be on the island. The increase is most apparent in Mytilini, where the streets and port are lined with refugees sleeping rough.
The decision to restrict the number of refugees arriving in Mytilini has left hundreds stranded in the north of the island and in need of emergency food and water distributions. Hundreds more, including many young children, are walking the 40-mile route south themselves.
On Sunday, the IRC responded to the acute crisis stepping in to provide food and water to refugees on the road to Mytilini and arranging emergency buses to safely transport walking refugees to the capital. This in addition to providing regular information and water and sanitation services in the Kara Tepe transit camp.
With no government agencies present to support the thousands of new arrivals, the relief effort has quickly become overwhelmed with the massive influx of people.
"The arrival of upward of 4,000 refugees on the island Saturday and more on Sunday has pushed all responding to the crisis beyond the breaking point. We’re seeing four times the number of refugees arriving on Lesbos than were arriving for all of Greece for most of the summer. What the collective relief effort has been doing for months is no longer enough. The well-being of arriving refugees now more than ever must be called into serious question,” said Kirk Day, International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Field Director on Lesbos.
The IRC is calling for:
- At least two more ferries to be sent to Lesbos every day for the next two weeks to take refugees to the mainland. This would address the backlog of refugees on the island.
- A transit centre to be established in the north of the island in order to regulate refugee flow to the south, which would help organisations like the IRC to provide consistent and reliable assistance at or near the immediate point of arrival for refugees.