Refugees crisis in Lesbos Island - November 2015

Crossing the Aegean Sea in November 2015

The North coast of the Greek Lesbos Island between Skala Sikamineas and Molyvos has the shortest distance to Turkey, 12 Km. This is the reason why most refugees land in this zone after crossing the Aegean Sea, some on floating wrecks but most packed on inflatable dinghies, 70 people at the time.
The smugglers charge currently €1000-1500 per person, grossing close to €100'000 for each dinghy. Life jackets (€12-25) are bought separately.
The life jackets are fakes which absorb water, hence drowning people instead of keeping them afloat!
The journey lasts one to three hours depending on wind direction and weather conditions.
During the crossing people are drenched due to winds, waves and badly inflated dinghies and at this time of the year they suffer frequently from hypothermia, especially children. Once on shore the refugees start an ever ending series of small hops separated by long waits of endless boredom. I spent two weeks in Lesbos to document the start of their journey in Europe. Their stays in the Greek Island last between 4 and 6 days depending on the waiting time to get their temporary permission to join mainland Greece. During this time the refugees go through 3 stages: 

Landing in Lesbos
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Skala Sikamias is a small village of fishermen located North of the island. Its population counts 50 inhabitants in winter and 300 in summer.
This November it is the refugees major landing spot with around 2000 to 3000 new arrivals daily. Major NGOs are absent, first help is provided by volunteers and small associations. Upon arrival refugees get food, medical assistance and new clothes before walking up the hill to catch a bus to a transit camp in Mantamedos.
Rubbish, wrecks, abandoned dinghies and thousands of life jackets litter the coast, adding an ecological threat to the humanitarian burden carried by the inhabitants of Lesbos. 

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The registration center is on the ground of an old military base in Moria, 15 minutes drive from Mytilini.
It is the first “Hot Spot” in Greece run by Frontex, the European agency in charge of the protection of its external borders.
Its purpose is the identification and registration of all the incoming refugees which is mandatory to buy a ticket for the ferry to mainland Greece. Until formalities completed 3000 refuges are  stuck there every day. They must stay outside of the camp, queue at the doors and wait up to three days to be called in. They regroup by nationalities and  sleep  on the ground or with luck in the few makeshift tents; they have twenty portable toilets at disposal and no showers. Volunteers distribute food once daily, there is one volunteer doctor on duty but many SIM-selling stands. In case of unrest police don’t hesitate to use batons. 

Crossing to Europe
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Once having received the authorization to cross, the refugees camp at Mytylini Harbor to take the ferry to Athens, the entry point of the Balkan route in Europe. The wait can last up to 2 days. A single fare in the "refugee" area of the boat (deck and seat section) costs €45 per person. There are few toilets but no showers. The fare takes one night, arrival at dawn at Athens-Piraeus.

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