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90,000 residents and 200,000 refugees

Udo Bauer / jtmNovember 3, 2015

How can that work? The residents of Lesbos show how: with calm, business savvy and the sometimes alarming pragmatism of local authorities. Udo Bauer reports from Mytilene.

Refugees wait to travel onwards at a harbor in Lesbos
Image: DW/U. Bauer

Mytilene is the largest city on the Greek island of Lesbos, in the northeast Aegean Sea not far from Turkey. It is an attractive place with massive docks. From there many large ferries run daily towards Piraeus and Kavala near the Macedonian border.

And that is why there are thousands of refugees here - they want to keep going. But sometimes it can be days until one can get a spot on a ferry. Many then set up their small tents on the sidewalks and in the city's parks. Many lie in doorways, on park benches or simply on piers at the harbor.

Arab, Somali and Afghani faces have reshaped the cityscape of Mytilene. The Greek residents do not mind. Quite the opposite - they are making good business with the newcomers.

A profit to be made

Restaurants, food stands, minimarts and coffee and tea shops are full. Taxis are continuously occupied, as are countless mobile drink and fruit vendors. And of course, the ferry companies are making record sales. Their busy season is usually long over by November, but now every ship is booked to the last seat. A single trip: 60 euros (66 dollars) - multiplied by 700 to 1,500 passengers.

The Greek authorities have chartered additional ferries to transport only refugees, so they can avoid spats or protests among the migrants who want only to move on.

The Islands of Greece

Valuable motors

The north coast of Lesbos is an orange streak. Thousands of lifejackets lie on the beach as far as the eye can see, having fulfilled their purpose for the refugees crossing from Turkey. So do the many rubber dinghies that the volunteers pierced right after their arrival so that they couldn't be pushed back onto the sea.

The helpers come from England, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany. A few Greeks as well hurry about the beaches. But they limit themselves to "recovering" the valuable scraps of metals from the boats. By sunrise, some are already carrying away the motors of the boats that came in overnight. These are worth a few thousand euro a piece.

Registered, and then sent on their way

The so-called "hotspot" in Moria, a barrack outside of Mytilene, has become a textbook example of the way processing is handled in Greece. By now the Greek police and officials from Frontex - the European Union border agency - have managed to register more than 5,000 refugees a day. However, the registration is not valid across the EU. It is usually full of loopholes; the information provided by refugees is not tested for its truth.

Refugees wait at a registration center in Lesbos
Refugees wait at a registration center in LesbosImage: DW / Udo Bauer

In the end, everyone here receives a registration form that entitles them to travel on from Lesbos. As a matter of fact, the refugees are not allowed to leave Greece, and many will still be ultimately deported. But the authorities on Lesbos cannot do that themselves. Nor do they want to. They just want to sustain a bit of peace and order. And therefore as many refugees as possible must be moved on from the island, as fast as possible.

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