Rights groups have warned of an impending humanitarian disaster as winter approaches and conditions decline in camps.
Moria camp, Greece – A group of men stand in a lengthy queue waiting for bread outside the Moria refugee camp as day breaks on Greece’s Lesbos Island.
Beyond them, an olive grove is blanketed with tents. Children play in the rubbish-lined field next to Moria, a refugee camp enclosed with barbed-wire fencing and patrolled by Greek police officers.
Although Moria was built with a capacity of 2,000, more than 6,000 people, among them children, currently live in the decrepit camp.
Basil, a 41-year-old Nigerian who declined to provide his surname, has been in Moria for more than a year while waiting for Greek authorities to process his asylum application. “I’ve been wearing the same clothes every day,” he told Al Jazeera while sitting on a weather-worn wooden bench outside the camp.
“We came here for help,” he continued. “But it’s a ghetto here … God sees what they [Greece] are doing to us here.”
Ely Qias, 16, fled war-torn Afghanistan with her mother and seven siblings before arriving in Greece nearly two months ago.
After living in Moria for two weeks, they moved out and squatted in a central square in Mytline, a nearby town, for more than a month.
“Before we came to Moria, we didn’t know it was like a prison or this dirty,” she told Al Jazeera. “We ate the food once or twice, but we couldn’t after that. We were throwing up.”
Rights groups and aid organisations have called on the Greek government to transfer refugees and migrants on islands to the country’s mainland. Yet, save for exceptions, asylum seekers are barred from leaving the islands until their claims are processed.
Last winter, at least three people died in Moria amid freezing temperatures.
At the time of publication, Greece’s migration ministry had not replied to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
On Friday, the Greek government announced its intention to transfer around 5,000 refugees to the mainland to ease the mounting pressure on the islands.
“The Greek government’s decision to move 5,000 people from the islands by December 15 is an important first step, and we recognise the efforts required to accomplish this,” Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece, told Al Jazeera.
“That said, at least 7,000 people need to be transferred before the start of winter, to ensure no one is left out in the cold.”