Voices from Piraeus: migrants relate reasons and risks

A passenger ferry carrying around 2,500 migrants arrives at Greece’s mainland from Lesbos, an island struggling to cope with the tens of thousands of people reaching its shores after fleeing war, persecution and poverty.

PIRAEUS, GREECE (OCTOBER 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – A ship chartered by the Greek government carrying 2,498 migrants from Lesbos island arrived at the port of Piraeus on Greece’s mainland on Monday (October 12).

The passenger ferry “Eleftherios Venizelos” is one of the three ships chartered by the Greek government to ease pressure on local infrastructure on its northeastern island as thousands of refugees continue to arrive at its shores on dinghy boats.

Men, women and small children disembarked from the ferry and immediately rushed to board buses taking them to the centre of Athens to embark on the next leg of their journey towards central and northern Europe.

A young Iranian, who did not wish to give his name, said he left his country with his two brothers and their families because they were no longer safe after changing religion.

“When you change your religion in my country, my government thinks you are at war with God and they kill you,” he said.

Another refugee from the Iraqi city of Sinjar, 32-year-old Yazidi Zeus, said he and his family survived the journey from Turkey to Lesbos by “‘miracle” despite a night-time passage across rough seas in an overcrowded dinghy.

“It was dangerous and it was really risky. We did not even expect that it is that risky because we moved at like 03:44 minutes in the middle of the night. We did not expect the waves could be that high and the smuggler did not tell us that we are going to find like weather forecasting so it was really risky but we could pass it, just like a miracle,” he said.

More than 50,000 refugees and migrants have been moved from the island of Lesbos since September 25, according to Lesbos coast guards.

The Human Rights Watch said on Monday that the lack of an orderly registration system, which included a shortage of interpreters, combined with people’s urgent need to continue their journey across Europe, has created a volatile situation at the registration centre on Lesbos.

The United Nations refugee agency has warned that the current flow of up to 8,000 migrants each day into Europe may only be the “tip of the iceberg”, and has urged governments to work together to bring an end to the Syrian civil war to prevent bigger moves of people. More than four million Syrians alone have fled the country because of the fighting.

At least 430,000 refugees and migrants have taken rickety boats across the Mediterranean to Europe this year, 309,000 via Greece, according to International Organization for Migration figures.