The cemeteries on Lesbos are full. But refugee families still need to bury their dead.

Nov. 3, 2015                                                                        PRI's The World

There’s no more room to bury the dead. Sypros Galinos, mayor of the Greek island of Lesbos, announced the main cemetery's area reserved for refugees who have drowned at sea is full. 

Efi Latoudi at the cemetery for refuges in Mytilene, Lesbos. PHOTO BY JODI HILTON

The situation symbolizes the despair this island feels at being at the epicenter of Europe's migration crisis — and having dead bodies washing up on its shores. Fifty-five more bodies sit in the morgue.

Ilias Maravas, a reporter for Greek ERT TV here, was the first to find two dead children on the beach two days after a trawler heaped with migrants sunk in high seas between Lesbos and Turkey last week. Two hundred and forty two people were rescued; 43 are confirmed dead with an unknown number still missing.  Pointing to his computer, Maravas said: “This is full of 10 months of pictures of dead people. I don’t ever want to see this again.”

Maravas told me that locals are deeply disturbed by corpses in the sea. “For us, the ocean gives us strength.  We fish in it, swim.  The sea is our home.  It should bring life, not death.”


On Lesbos, today's refugees are met by the children of refugees from a century ago

 October 21, 2015                                                PRI's The World

Constantina Mesisklis and her friends, women in their 80s and 90s, are a fixture on the bench in Skala Sykaminia, the tiny seaside village on the northern coast of Lesbos where 1000s of refugees have been arriving from the nearby Turkish coast every day for months on end.

Constantina Mesisklis, center.  PHOTO: ALISON TERRY-EVANS
 The population of Skala Sykaminia numbers about 150 and all of them are the children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of a another group of refugees — the Greeks who fled Turkey in 1922-23 after what is known in Greece as “The Asia Minor Catastrophe.”
Thousands escaped in boats as the Turks routed the Greek army and set fire to Smyrna, today’s Izmir. Eventually a population of 1.5 million Greek Orthodox, Greek language speakers would be expelled from Turkey to Greece; likewise, 500,000 Muslims were forcibly resettled from Greece back to Turkey. Today more than half the population of Lesbos descends from the 1922 refugees.

“My mother came here alone when she was a girl in 1922,” Constantina tells me in her soft voice. “Her parents were dead over there.” She learned English in the United States, where she lived for many years before returning to Sykaminia to bury her husband two years ago. “They didn’t have anything. It was very, very hard. There was no food to eat, no work, no clothes, no nothing when she came.”