Anastasia Karakasidou, an anthropology professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, spoke at the Stony Brook Center for Hellenic Studies on Monday, Oct. 29 about the influx and impact of refugees on the island of Lesbos, Greece.
Karakasidou specializes in studying the culture of cancer in different nations such as Bulgaria and Greece. She was on the island working in a monastery dealing with cancer treatment during the refugee crisis in the summer.
Karakasidou discussed the way in which the citizens of Lesbos came “face to face with humanity” as refugees landed on the north shore of the island and the different reactions the natives had to the refugees landing on shore.
These refugees came from a variety of nations such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Morocco. Karakasidou documented eyewitness accounts from citizens, who would see the refugees come onto the island from their makeshift boats on a daily basis.
“Curse them,” Niko, a Lesbos native Karakasidou spoke with while on the island, said. “They are eventually going to take our jobs and eventually our homes.”
Other citizens were helpful with the incoming population, offering water and bread to those that had just arrived on shore or on the dock waiting for their papers.
Lesbos is one of the furthest islands from the Greek mainland, located just 10 kilometers from the shore of Turkey. It has become a hub for refugees escaping the horrid conditions of war.
As refugees land on the shore, they have a 40-meter walk to a port where they can fill out refugee papers. Some are sent to Athens or stay in the camps that were created on Lesbos to hold the homeless. A large hotspot for migrants is the Moria camp, which holds 9,000 people when it is meant for 3,100.
Several agencies and groups have become involved in aiding Greece with the crisis, including Doctors Without Borders and the International Rescue Committee. The United Nations has assisted in alleviating the crisis by renting out houses for tenants to live under a roof instead of in a camp or park.
Karakasidou described how the refugee situation in Lesbos has caused a media frenzy, with several news outlets covering the harsh conditions of the camp and the island. It also shined a light on how Greece has been left to deal with the refugee crisis despite groups saying they would assist.
With at least 90,500 refugees in Lesbos, tourism, a main source of income for the island, dropped drastically. This left citizens and the government alike searching for a solution. Karakasidou spoke about how celebrities such as Angelina Jolie visited the island and saw the horrid conditions that the camps were in. She promised that she would return to the island the next summer with her family, yet never did.
In an attempt to help, the E.U. reached an agreement with Turkey on March 18, 2016, stating that the country had to cut down on the number of refugees entering Europe from the nation.
Currently, U.N. Border Patrol boats are stationed around the area of Lesbos. Thousands of refugees still remain, with numerous parts of the island still cluttered on the outskirts and rough living conditions inside of the camps.
The Center for Hellenic Studies’ next presentation will take place on Nov. 19, when Professor Kostis Smyrlis of New York University comes to campus.