Maureen Jack, a Member of the World Mission Council, shares further news from her experience as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team in Greece.
The system on Lesbos is that refugees have to complete an initial registration with the port police in Mytilene. Some land near Mytilene and so don’t have too far to travel. But others land on the north side of the island; as you may have seen on TV, some of the refugees, men, women and children, had to walk almost forty miles. Until recently, there was a law in Greece forbidding the giving of lifts to refugees; indeed, some local people were charged and brought to trial for helping in this way. Fortunately, this law has now been repealed; locals and tourists offer lifts and Medecins sans Frontieres has provided a bus from Molyvos in the north to Mytilene, which some refugees can travel on. And there are people helping along the route, giving food and clothing, including the good folk of a church in the village of Kallouni.
People are often exhausted when they arrive here. I have seen people with their shoes and the bottoms of their trousers dripping wet. It is mainly younger people who make the journey; one young Syrian man told me that he and his wife of four months had come but that their older family members were not fit enough to make the journey. But I have seen a man in a wheelchair who does not have the use of his lower limbs or one arm, following injuries sustained when planes dropped bombs in Syria; he is travelling just with his brother and a friend, but everyone on their boat had helped him.
Refugees can arrive in Mytilene at any time of the day and night. The registration office is supposed to be open between 6am and 9pm, but I have been in the port area around 7pm or 8pm and found it closed.
Some refugees have little money, but for many I have met money is not an issue. They are allowed to patronise shops and cafes, but they cannot legally stay in a hotel or take a taxi or public bus without the relevant document from the Greek authorities. (When I was on my own taking a taxi to one of the refugee camps, the driver asked me if I had this document). This means that there are refugees with no option but to hang about and sleep rough in the port area, either waiting for the office to open for the initial registration or, after this first registration, for a bus to their camp. One young Afghani woman who had arrived in the early evening asked me where she could wash and change and I could only suggest that she have something to eat or drink in a cafe and use the bathroom there (the public toilets are not great.)
I have watched how people are dealt with during the initial registration. I am sorry to say that they are not always treated well. None of the refugees speaks Greek and so the port police speak to, or often shout at, them in English (which some, but by no means all, understand). To be fair, there are sometimes so many people that the authorities have a difficult job. But the staff make the refugees sit on the ground (which is covered in small stones) in a cramped area. After giving information including their name, nationality and date of birth, the refugees get a piece of paper with the date of their registration and a registration number; then they have their photo taken holding up this piece of paper.
After this, they are free to go to the camps. The time of registration dictates how long they wait for a bus: I have spoken to people at 8pm who have been waiting for the bus for seven hours, afraid to move from the car park in case they miss it. The numbers of refugees are such that the buses that take them to the camps are often overcrowded. I shall write about the camps in my next post.