Only 3 miles of sea divide Lesbos and Turkey on the north part of the island, making it one of the most popular routes to Europe. After the EU-Turkey deal was signed in 2016, arrivals decreased, but did not stop. In 2017, 12,742 people made the crossing to Lesbos, and in the first four days of 2018, 251 people arrived on the island.
In 2015 borders within the EU were open, and within three days of making landfall refugees would get their papers, go to Athens and continue their journey, applying for asylum elsewhere in the EU.
October 17, 2017. Mytilene, Lesbos. Greece. Moustafa from Kurdish Syria takes a picture of his family in his 10th day in Europe. ¨When we first arrived we were happy, but we want to continue, we don´t want to wait here¨
That changed in March 2016, when the EU and Turkey signed a deal aiming to stop the flood of refugees into Europe and instead divert them through Turkey. In theory, for every refugee that an EU country returned to Turkey, the EU would resettle someone processed there. In reality, the deal increased border controls and deportations and resulted in few resettlements. In addition, it forced asylum-seekers who arrived in Greece to apply for protection there, and dictated that refugees couldn’t leave the island on which they arrived until their asylum request had been accepted,.
October 15, 2017. Lesbos, Greece. Refugees walk in the roads towards the Moria hotspot.
People still make the perilous crossing, and when they land on Lesbos or other islands, they face a humiliating process that can leave them waiting years in what is essentially an open-air prison. As of last summer, there were more than 60,000 asylum-seekers in Greece, and 15,000 stuck in the aegean.
September 15, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Two young boys walk in the outside of the camp. Of the 6500 people staying in Moria, more than a third are underage children, they don´t get access to education, even if in some cases have to spend a year in the island.
November 9, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Afghani asylum seekers girls clean their space inside the camp.
November 9, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. A young girl talks inside the camp to her family back home.
October 20, 2017. Syrians and Iraqis asylum seekers make a bonfire to cook and keep warm outside of the Moria hotspot. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. There is no system for heating and with winter approaching, residents sleeping in summer tents are worried, reminded of last winter when six people in the camp died because of the cold.
October, 15, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Asylum seeker children in one of the family section of the camp. A family of 6 sleep get one bunk bed to sleep, children sleep in the floor.
October 19, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. A group of Syrian refugees in a tent outside Moria camp.
November 9, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Leila, an afghani asylum seeker girl goes to one of the few bathrooms in all Moria. There is no a cleaning system, often there is no water nor electricity.
October 15, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Maher and his son Majid from Syria, at their tent in the outside of Moria. When they arrived in June they got placed in a small tent next to the bathroom, after Majid got sick they decided to move outside of the camp. ¨As we arrived, I hoped my son could finally go to school, but I found out fast that that was one of the many thing we don´t get as asylum seekers ¨ Maher was disappointed and expressed feeling humiliated continuously. After 5 months of waiting, Maher, Majid and some other Syrian friends made the counter migration, and illegally crossed their way back to Syria.
October 19, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. Aarif poses for a photograph in front of their camp site outside Moria hotspot. Aarif used to work in the army in Syria, when he left the army he was kidnapped and tortured by ISIS for a year before he managed to escape. He arrived in Greece in July, he expressed how lowly and humiliated he felt. In November he went back to Syria.
Every month, the asylum-seekers on Lesbos go to the European Asylum Support Office to renew their immigration cards. If they get a blue stamp, they can move to the mainland, but many of the asylum seekers have gone more than 10 times and received the red stamp that restricts them to the island at every visit. Simultaneously, deportations back to Turkey are increasing. In some cases, asylum seekers wait more than a year on Lesbos only to get deported.
October 13, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece An Asylum seeker shows his identity card with the red stamp means he cannot leave the island.
October 15, 2017. Panaiouda, Lesbosm Greece. Iman and a group of Iranians asylum seekers get warm by a bonfire near by the sea. ¨Moria is driving us crazy, there is so much violence, humiliation, we try to be outside as much as we can ¨
October 20, 2017. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. Maha and her children wait outside of the hotspot for the fighting to stop in the camp. Violence clashes are common, but on that day there were rocks flying everywhere, and while this family was having their asylum interview the EASO decided to evacuate all their workers and to stop all the interviews. This family had been waiting for a months to get the interviewed.
After a confrontation between Afghans and Arabs inside Moria, a group of refugees from Moria started a protest in Lesbos’ main square to demand better conditions and the chance to leave the prison island. Two weeks later, the demonstration escalated into a hunger strike.
November 14, 2017. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. Protest camp in Sappho Square.
The protesters had occupied the Sappho Square for three weeks when the commemoration of Lesbos’ liberation was celebrated on November 8. Early that morning, police violently brought down every tent, and when the parade for the holiday started that afternoon, police surrounded the protesters. In the picture, Qasem and his 1-year-old daughter hold a sign that says, “We are refugees, not criminals … Open the island.”
November 8, 2017. Sappho square, Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece.
November 14, 2017. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. Adele in her 14 day of hunger strike in a demonstration to get their friend Hesam free. Hesam, a poet and activist from Iran was protesting with them in Sappho square but was taken by the police and is now in jail, waiting to be deported.
November 10, 2017. Sappho square, Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece. Kerim and Adele getting ready for the day in their protest camp in Sappho Square.
Iman was a playwright in Iran, where he wrote a controversial play that resulted in his arrest and torture. On the way to his trial Iman escaped and managed to get to Lesbos by the end of the summer. Since his arrival four months ago he has been protesting for better conditions and against the containment policy.
November 14, 2017. Sappho square, Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece. Iman plays with a baby during their protest.
Sadegh from Afghanistan sleeps in the protest in Sappho Square. November 10, 2017. Sappho square, Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece. Fifteen days after this photograph was taken, demonstrators in the square were violently evicted by the police, forcing the refugees to find somewhere else to sleep, or go back to Moria.
November 14, 2017. Moria camp, Lesbos, Greece. A pregnant woman and a young boy from from Iraq in their make up camps on the outside of Moria. Like many other families they prefer being outside, far from the violence and the smell, but also far from the bathroom and the food.
November 9, 2017. Moria camp Lesbos. Ally from Iraq poses for a photograph outside Moria camp. Her mother was killed in Iraq, she came to Europe with her brother and father, and they all have been waiting a year to move on.
November 14, 2017. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. Azia and her son Ivan from Iraqi kurdistan wait for time to pass outside of Moria camp. They are yazidis, many members of their family were killed by Daesh, and inside Moria they face discrimination and violence for their religion, Ivan tells me many children call him ¨Kafir¨ and don´t want to play with him. They prefer staying outside, waiting for they asylum process to be accepted. They wish to go to Germany, for now they wait to be moved out of Moria.
November 15, 2017. Moria, Lesbos, Greece. Saqib from Baluchistan Pakistan poses for a portrait in the entrance of the hotspot. Saqib arrived 9 months ago in Greece, fleeing persecution because his involvement in a local Baloch newspaper. He is now waiting for another interview. ¨ We are disappointed at Europe, we never thought it will be like this, I think the waiting and the lack of freedom are the worst for my mind, I try to keep busy, but it´s difficult ¨