Sayid paid five hundred dollars to cross from Turkey to the north shore of Lesvos, in Greece, on a flimsy seven-metre dinghy with his two children and sixty-two other people. When he arrived, a Belgian woman took pity on him, and drove Sayid and his children to Mytilene, the capital of the island. The drive takes about an hour and a half, on winding mountain roads, and is more than forty miles. Sayid was lucky. He had paid less than half what most of the refugees and migrants arriving in Greece today pay, and he didn’t have to walk across Lesvos. Although N.G.O.s and the local government have recently provided buses to transport the migrants, the buses come sporadically. As the refugee population swells, people are trapped for several days in areas where there is no shelter. Many locals won’t take refugees in their cars or taxis, citing a law that makes it illegal to transport unregistered migrants.
The Syrian refugee encampment in Mytilene, Kara Tepe, on an old driving track and what appear to be ruins, has a capacity of about five hundred, but some two thousand refugees are waiting there at present. The detention center where non-Syrian refugees are held, Moria, is also overflowing, and people have been found trying to break in because the conditions in the overflow area are so squalid. Thousands of people are also camped out in the port, in a parking lot, and beneath the façades of crumbling midcentury concrete buildings. When ferries arrive in the port, refugees shelter in the shade thrown by the massive steel hulls. Some have been stuck on the island for weeks, and they have difficulties finding tickets to make it to Athens, even if they have gone through the complex process to get their transit papers.
Migration and refugee movements in the Mediterranean countries have gained unprecedented momentum in 2015. The situation along migratory routes to Europe and within Europe itself is changing faster than ever before. We face the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Millions of people are fleeing unthinkable violence and abuse in their home countries – from barrel bombing and gas attacks in Syria, to torture and enslavement in Eritrea. The crisis is not about economic betterment – it is fundamentally about life and liberty.
For those who survive the treacherous journey, the terrifying ordeal is not over. Children often arrive in Europe scared and exhausted. Many have seen and experienced untold horrors during their journey. The physical impact of travelling is also clear.
There were nearly 3,500 deaths at sea in 2015 among people making desperate bids to flee war and poverty and to reach Europe, according to UN figures. European leaders tried to focus on joint action with Africa to tackle the migration crisis, as Slovenia became the latest EU member to act on its own by barricading its border.