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Pan Lesvian Federation of Australia and NZ says Turkey conflict bringing ‘easy gateway’ for refugees

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An open letter has been issued by the Pan Lesvian Federation of Australia and NZ to all Hellenes and Philhellenes, claiming that the conflict with Turkey is bringing opportunity of an “easy gateway” into Europe through Lesvos.

In the joint letter by Honourable Secretary Andrew Tsounis and President Dimitri Barmakellis, the Pan Lesvian Federation of Australia and NZ said they expect refugees to treat their “next stepping stone” with respect.

See the full letter below:

Ongoing conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean and the opportunity of an easy gateway into Europe has made Lesvos a steppingstone for refugees fleeing war zones and poverty in East Africa.

The proximity of the Turkish coastline to Lesvos has through a throng of social media enticed a steady stream of refugees entering the inland in search of refuge. The local authorities of the island are overwhelmed.

The local residents were at first heartbroken in the light of the human suffering; however, this has turned to regret and disgust as the large number of refugees are taking advantage of the good nature of the residents.

Some 1.2 million refugees from war zones have crossed into Greece since 2015. Lesvos located in the eastern Aegean is only 12km to the Turkish coastline at its closest point and this has created an opportunity for many to take advantage of. The Turkish government has adopted an open-door policy to put pressure on the EU in its dealings with them. The Greek government has taken a host of steps in response to the Turkish Government’s decision, including deploying military and coast guard forces to the border, suspending asylum applications and vowing to deport those who enter the country illegally.

This however, is too little too late, “the horse has bolted”.

Some Greek residents, meanwhile, have taken matters into their own hands by forming civilian patrols aimed at stopping the flow of migrants. In Lesvos an interim makeshift camp designated for 3000 people has grown around the small town of Moria which recently housed up to 15,000 asylum seekers.

They are free to move about in the community with little restrictions. Lesvos is a holiday destination for many that live overseas, such as us here in Australia and many have family homes that we stay at during our time in Greece. Unfortunately, due to the global Covid 19 restrictions, tourism has disappeared from Lesvos for the time being.

These refugees, however, opportunist that they are, have taken to breaking into these properties and making themselves at home. The local police are at their stretching point.

Local politics and divisions between the two local municipalities need to be set aside for the good of the island.

Descendants of Lesvos now living in Australia have watched with distaste and disappointment as the events have been evolving on the island.

We as Australians cannot comprehend the ineffectiveness of the local and National authorities of Greece in processing the refugees to move them on to their next destination. But we are also amazed and angered at the reckless behaviors that some of these refugees have adopted, braking into homes, desecrating churches, and even cutting down olive many trees the symbol of Lesvos. In late January 2021, some hope was announced, it was revealed through local media channels that the Greek Government has secured 16 million Euro in funding to support the establishment and construction of facilities to house refugees whilst their applications were being processed.

The conditions surrounding this funding and the proposed type of construction is still unclear to the local communities that are directly impacted by the creation of purpose built facilities for fleeing refugees. What is known is that 6000 sqm near the town of Moria has been earmarked for this facility, again without consultation with the local residents and the municipal authorities.

It seems that the planning is in the advanced stage of design and construction. For the locals and those outside of Lesvos who have an attachment to Lesvos, it is hoped that the proposed centre is a transient facility, processing the refugee applications and then moving these people on to their next destination. In no way should it be a permanent or semi-permanent arrangement. The proposal to temporarily house refugees in purpose built temporary accommodation is a good move by the Government, however, this must be supported by efficient and timely processing of applications to help move people on to their next destination. Lesvos has had difficulty in accommodating, and will not be able to fully house the influx of refugees.

This announcement brings some hope to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, malicious damage, theft, and the constant fear the locals have in not knowing who is living amongst them. We, who reside far from the front line of Lesvos, watch the news as it trickles out of Lesvos. These events as they unfold and the uncertainty of the future outcomes, has seriously discouraged investment and support in the island economy by those Lesvians living overseas. Living in Australia, we have expectations as to how refugees are treated and managed with respect and dignity, however we also expect the refugees to treat their next stepping stone also with respect and appreciate the assistance of the local people and the government authorities of Greece.

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