By Diana Takacsova

In 2015 and 2016, the Greek island of Lesbos saw half a million refugees fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan or DR Congo, among other countries. The island was, alongside Chios and Samos, one of the main entry points on the migration route in Greece. As the 2016 EU-Turkey deal changed the character of migration, thousands of asylum seekers remained trapped on the Aegean islands. The number of arrivals has now dropped – but not stopped. According to the Aegean Boat Report’s statistics, 493 boats started their trip towards the Greek islands in July 2019, carrying 15 140 people. 175 boats arrived in Greece, carrying 5099 people. A staggering 318 boats were stopped, and 10 041 people were arrested.

The Moria migrants’ reception center, located about twenty minutes by car from Mytilene, is the new arrivals’ first stop on Lesbos which, in many cases, becomes a permanent place. With a capacity for about 3 000 people, the former military base – now for many resembling a prison – is hopelessly overcrowded: it became a place of detention instead of a place of transit, leaving asylum seekers in limbo, in many cases for years. This situation poses a real threat to the physical and mental health of already vulnerable populations. 

Some escape the worsening security situation and living conditions by moving to the Olive Grove, adjacent to Moria. Here, women, men and families seek more privacy on a steep hill, in shelters built using tents, blankets, branches, pallets and other available materials. 

This feature was created in January 2019 when, according to UNHCR data, 5,000 people were staying in Moria – and about 2,000 in the Olive Grove. The cold, strong wind and the almost constantly pouring rain deteriorated the already dire conditions in the Olive Grove, a place without regular access to electricity or sanitary facilities, without clear prospects for the future – but with unimaginable resilience.

This photographic project was supported by Minority Rights Group International.  

Diana Takacsova is a Slovak/Hungarian photographer now based in Brussels, Belgium, focusing on questions of identity, physical and emotional connection to place and human relationship to nature and environment. From Europe to the Middle East and Africa, she seeks smaller stories that tell more about the whole, investigating the daily life of different groups and communities and the impacts on them. She is a Slovak Press Photo Award recipient (2016) and nominee (2018), and a participant of an artist residency documenting urban territories/personal territories in Paris, France.