US doctor says refugee camp on Lesvos is a place without ‘human dignity’

US doctor says refugee camp on Lesvos is a place without ‘human dignity’

A camp on the Greek island of Lesvos housing more than 2,500 migrants denies people the most basic human dignity in bitterly cold winter weather, a doctor working at the camp said.

Diane Sampson, an American paediatrician, said she had treated desperate patients at the Moria camp suffering from frostbite, shivering with cold and drenched by snow and rain that had washed through the flimsy tents they are staying in.

“This camp is definitely one of the least prepared ones that I have seen. It's not really prepared for the weather conditions,” Sampson, who has worked in the camp for nearly three weeks, said by telephone from Lesvos. 

Tents are leaking and standing in cold water and migrants have no way of drying their clothes and bedding after days of heavy snow and rain, said Sampson.

“In a situation like that our main responsibility is to look at these human beings and treat them like human beings. This place lacks basic human dignity,” Sampson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

A volunteer for Dutch charity Boat Refugee Foundation, Sampson said she had worked in camps after earthquakes in Pakistan and Haiti as well as along the Pakistan-Afghan border in the past 20 years. The difference between how these camps had been run and the conditions she has encountered at the Moria camp were like “night and day,” she said.

Sampson said usually in a humanitarian emergency an organization takes the lead in delegating tasks like shelter, food and clothing to ensure efficient management of resources. 

“What is frustrating is that many of the conditions we're seeing here are preventable,” said Sampson.

More rain is forecast over the weekend and next week. Some of Sampson's patients had told her they had queued for up to an hour in the cold and rain for food, with most people lacking winter boots and rain-proof clothes. A video posted on YouTube earlier this week showed tents collapsing under the weight of heavy snow days after Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas was quoted as saying there were no refugees or migrants living in the cold.

Roland Schoenbauer, United Nations refugee agency's (UNHCR) spokesman for Greece, said 235 people had been transferred from camps on Lesvos to hotels at special rates in the past few days, and a few dozen men had also spent their first night on Thursday on a tanker ship sent to Lesvos by the Greek navy.

“The underlying issue is not winter as such but the slow registration procedures. If they were speedier, it would allow faster transfer of people to mainland Greece where there is better accommodation,” Schoenbauer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Athens.

UNHCR said on Friday refugees and migrants are dying in Europe's cold snap and governments must do more to help them rather than pushing them back from borders. 

Distribution of winter items continued across Greece, including the islands, with close to 360,000 items given out, such as high thermal blankets, sleeping bags, winter boots and clothes, UNHCR said.

* This story was written for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit

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