Let’s start with this: today, in the world, there are, by pretty precise counts, almost 25 million refugees. Refugees are people who are living, not only out of their homes, but outside their homelands. Just over half of them are children. All of them are human beings.
One sub-group that we’ve been following are the refugees, most of them fleeing war and violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, trapped in refugee camps in Greece. According to the latest count by the International Rescue Committee, right now there are more than 57,000 of them.
And they are living through the coldest winter in Southeastern Europe in a decade. Meteorologists say records show temperatures these low maybe 3 times a century.
Which means, thousands of refugees, close to 30 thousand of them women and children, are, according to any number of human rights workers and journalists on the ground, in real danger of freezing to death.
5 children have already died in a camp on the island of Samos, and the spokeswoman for the UN agency for refugees, says 1000 more are need of immediate relocation to the mainland.
At the big Camp Moria on Lesbos, Diane Sampson, an American pediatrician who was worked in refugee camps around the world, told the NY Times, when it comes dealing with the weather, “This camp is definitely one of the least prepared ones that I have seen.”
And she adds the crushing indictment: “What is frustrating is that many of the conditions we’re seeing here are preventable.”
When Dr Sampson speaks of conditions she means the tents leaking or collapsing in the recent weeks of wind, rain and snow. The same tents in many cases that Jeanne Carstensen of PRI’s The World told us in October were already making Moria unbearable to live in.
There is another condition, caused by political complications and bureaucratic inertia, and too few resources to do the job. In 2015, more than 800,000 refugees arrived in Greece. In 2016, that number dropped below 175,000. But the slowdown in refugees has actually been more dramatic than that. In January 2016, the refugee flow into Greece was over 67,000…starting in May, the monthly average for the rest of the year was about 2500. So, why are thousands of people still in temporary camps in the islands of Samos, Lesbos and Chios?
Another UN spokesman claims he knows the answer: “The underlying issue is not winter as such, says Roland Schoenbauer, “but the slow registration procedures. If they were speedier, it would allow faster transfer of people to mainland Greece where there is better accommodation.”
But, this slowdown has persisted for months, through Summer and Fall, so why were living facilities for these more than 50,000 people left so inadequate for so long?
Muhammed Muheisen was born in Jerusalem in 1981, graduated with a degree in journalism and political science. He is the Associated Press (AP) chief photographer for the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, AND a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
Muheisen joined AP in 2001, covering major events in the Middle East such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the funeral of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the US led-war in Iraq, including the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
Most recently, his work about displaced people was shown at THE FENCE in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Boston and Houston.