The number of refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesvos is now less than 5,000, according to figures released by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum on Tuesday.
This represents the fewest number of migrants and refugees living on the island since 2016, the year after the first gigantic wave of migrants came onto Greek shores. The official data from the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum now shows that the number on Lesvos has fallen below 5,000 for the first time since 2016.
Housed on Lesvos originally in the sprawling camp of Moria, which was designed for 2,800 people, the migrants packed into the areas surrounding the camp as well, taking up residence in olive groves and hillsides around the area and swelling the population of displaced people to 12,600 at one point.
Moria camp becomes byword for cramped, unsanitary housing
Moria became a byword for a cramped, inhospitable, unsanitary place which was a danger to its residents and was a thorn in the side of the island, whose residents were forced to deal with migrants and asylum seekers who walked freely amongst them while they waited for their cases to be heard.
During the peak migration years of 2015-2016, more than one million people swarmed across the Greek seas and land borders to the European Union from Turkey. From April to July of 2019, a total of 12,363 people were recorded landing on Greek shores and at other border crossings.
The numbers of refugees and migrants for the same period in 2020, after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, came to just 850.
The untenable situation came to a head in September of 2020, when after residents were asked to submit to coronavirus testing, fires were set by several migrants from Afghanistan in a bid to have the entire camp shut down.
Officials said the original fire was started by camp residents angered by the lockdown measures and isolation orders imposed after 35 people tested positive for COVID-19. The cases were found during broad testing and contact tracing after the illness of a Somali man who had been granted asylum and had left the island in July but later returned.
The exact cause of the first blaze was being investigated, but “what is certain is that the fire was started, because of the quarantine, by asylum-seekers in the facility,” said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis, who flew to Lesvos with Greece’s interior minister and the head of the public health organization.
“Instances of unlawful behavior such as the ones we experienced yesterday will not be left unpunished,” Mitarakis said. “Such behavior is not acceptable, and also respect for law and order is a necessary precondition for the asylum process.”
Refugee population on Lesvos now 4,994
The population of asylum seekers and migrants on the islands is finally showing a significant decrease, after the Moria camp was abandoned after the arson and the new camp at Kara Tepe was built for fewer residents.
According to the report published today, the population of refugees and immigrants in Lesvos now comes to 4,994, of which 4,441 individuals are living in the temporary accommodation camp in Kara Tepe.
Some people who had lived at Moria have also been moved on to the Greek mainland as well.
A total of 134 people still living on Lesvos are unaccompanied minors, 412 live in apartments that are part of the ESTIA program and seven are currently in prison.