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Lesvos: Locals Struggle to Survive as Tourism Suffers from Refugee Crisis

lesvosAs more than 500,000 migrants have taken refuge in Europe in 2016 alone, it is no wonder that hotspot areas for entry into the EU are being hit the hardest with a drastic decline in tourism, causing locals to worry about their future.
The Greek island of Lesvos has been under the spotlight in the media and worldwide as it is a central entry point for migrants escaping their war-torn countries Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan by boat from the shores of Turkey.
Although there was a deal struck between the EU and Turkey earlier this year which states that a percentage of migrants refused for asylum will be returned to Turkey, which has seen a decrease in the flow of migrants to Greece, there are still some 3,000 refugees on the island of Lesvos living mainly in two camps near the biggest town on the island.
Tourism on Lesvos Declines for 2016 Season
tourism lessTourists are simply avoiding the island that has seen some 600,000 refugees pass through their island from war-torn nations over the past 18 months.
Locals are concerned, and rightfully so, as most of the island relies on tourism during the summer months to survive the rest of the year, as well as keep their health insurance valid as they usually are employed only during the summer months, and in Greece you must be employed for several months a year to keep your public health benefits.
“The situation is the worst in 50 years on the island,” Periklis Antoniou, the chairman of the Lesvos Hoteliers Association and owner of the Heliotrope Hotel told
Flights have been canceled, tours rebooked elsewhere and the people of Lesvos are left with the stigma of a refugee hotspot, which has actually seen better days recently, as less new arrivals of migrants and better organization of camps have made the island more tourist friendly, a message that the media has yet to convey. Overall, bookings to the island are down 70-90 percent for the 2016 tourist season thus far.
“You have to look very hard to find a refugee today,” Melinda McRostie a local Greek taverna owner said to the
lesvos refugeesAs many islanders on Lesvos, she also helped the refugees when they first started arriving on the island, long before the international community and NPOs got involved in the migrant crisis. In fact, she founded the Starfish Foundation, to assist refugees on the island.
Locals Desperate for Work
The beaches are empty on Lesvos, the streets and shops have all but a few tourists wandering about, and locals are getting creative about finding work in order to survive.
Times have changed and locals are worried that soon they might not be much better off than the migrants they once sacrificed so much to help.
McRostie explained: “People were shocked, then they helped the refugees — a lot. Now they’re angry, and I see it, they’re scared: ‘Are we going to be refugees too?’”
Other locals such as 27-year-old Theodore Kourniaris lost his job as a waiter on Lesvos and has taken to milking hundreds of goats by hand for a mere 25 euros a day, just to survive.
Refugees on Lesvos: An Island with Historical Context
The locals on the Greek island of Lesvos have an empathy to the refugee crisis due to personal experience.
Many of the Greeks on the island come from families where their grandparents, Christian Greeks living in Turkey, survived the Greek Genocide of the 1920s and were driven out of their homes and forced to repatriate to Greece as refugees themselves.

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