October 2, 2019 / 5:08 PM / 17 days ago

Greece's Moria refugees decry conditions, 'death better than this'

LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) - Jan Ali Razaiem said he made the long journey from his home in Afghanistan to Greece for a better future for his two sons.

People buy fruit and vegetables from a street vendor outside a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

Instead, he has been forced to settle for the squalor of Moria, a filthy overcrowded migrant camp on the island of Lesbos where fights over food are common, violence is rife and he is forced to share a small tent with 16 people.

“If I had known what it was like here, we wouldn’t have come here; death would have been better that this,” he told Reuters.

More than 12,000 people - mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq - live in Moria camp. A former Greek military base, it opened in 2015 as a centre to register arrivals but is now at four times its capacity.

“We had a very hard journey and came across the sea to get here. But look, my children are riddled with bugs, look! My wife, my sons, myself, we are all being bitten by bugs. We have 16 people living in one tent which is only fit to hold for 4 people,” Razaie said.

Other migrants speak of rain, cold and illness, lack of food and safety, dirty toilets and water shortages.

At the food queues, there are fights over bread, said Khadijeh, from Iran.

    Moria camp is buckling under the pressure of thousands of migrants, so much so that the camp has spilled out of its gates onto the surrounding fields.

On Sunday an Afghan woman died in a fire that tore through one of the shipping containers used as improvised living quarters in the compound, triggering violent protests.

“Anything can happen, whether it’s a fight, whether it’s a fire incident, whether it’s contagious diseases, the situation is really critical, its at the border (point), something very big could happen,” the UNHCR spokewoman on Lesbos, Astrid Castelein, said.

     Altogether there are about 14,400 migrants on Lesbos island, the UNHCR said. Moria is built for 3,000. And recently the island has been coping with a new surge in sea arrivals. 

More migrants need to be transferred off the islands, and more accommodation needs to be found, she said, adding that EU member states needed to share the burden.  

“There is support from the EU that’s for sure, but it would be better if the share was a little bit proportionate,” she said.

Writing by Deborah Kyvrikosaios and Michele Kambas; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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