They are abandoned on the beaches of the Greek islands. As reported by the site Actu.fr, the inflatable boats of the migrants are recycled into fashion items by the company Mimycri based in Berlin.
Customers “buy these bags because they tell a story, because they are more than just a thing,” says owner German Vera Günther, one of the two founders in her studio crammed with heavy sewing machines, shelves filled with plastic parts and computers.
Each piece is unique, sometimes with stripes or marks that reveal very tragic destinies, says the company. It generated some 120 000 euros of turnover last year.
Günther was one of the young women who came to meet migrants in the country’s train stations. She told AFP that she wants to change the way we look at migrants. “They are people (…) who exactly like us all want a job, a house.”
The makeshift boats are indeed transformed by asylum seekers in bags and tote bags to be sold on the internet. According to the information of Actu.fr, this company, created by the two thirty-year-olds, recovers the inflatable rafts stranded on the shores of Chios and the island north of Lesbos.
These were the sites of landings that occurred in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of refugees headed for the beaches to reach Europe. On Lesbos, around 7000 migrants currently outnumber the local population by 2,5 to one. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the situation is even more explosive on the island of Samos, where it is at six to one.
On site, NGOs pick up rafts that litter the shoreline with other detritus, life jackets or clothing.
“We recover 90 percent of the boats stranded on the coast” of Chios that are not escorted by the police once they have entered Greek waters, explained Toula Kitromilidi, Greek coordinator of the NGO CESRT.
“The rest is used by locals”, for example farmers who use the plastic as tarpaulins. At the peak of the migrant crisis, Greece recorded up to 7 000 arrivals per day. In total, Mimycri offers a dozen products of which 3 percent of the sale is donated to NGOs in Greece.
According to EU border agency Frontex, Greece in 2019 has counted some 5 500 migrant arrivals in the first two months of this year, a number which is a third higher than in 2018. Spain currently receives the highest number of clandestine arrivals.
Almost a million migrants arrived on the Greek islands in 2015. Frontex spokeswoman Ewa Moncure said the number was down to 56 500 last year, just behind Spain at 57 000.
Italy has seen a significant drop in arrivals with only 23 000 thanks to the strict anti-immigration policies of Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini.
A Greek coast guard patrol skipper, who was on duty at the height of the 2015 crisis, said the radar would light up at night with the many arrivals in Lesbos. “Many thousands of people arrived, by day or by night. We were seeing dots everywhere on our radar… sometimes we had to choose between eight boats,” he told AFP.
Mountains of discarded lifejackets still litter the island.
The Moria camp’s deputy commander Dimitrios Vafeas admitted “there’s a huge waiting list” to process asylum claims. “We have arrivals every day, 90 percent of them Afghans. It’s important to continue accelerating the transfers to the mainland,” he told AFP. The small village of Moria hosts one of the region’s largest migrant camps.
According to UNHCR’s representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, previously migrants would stay on the islands for a maximum of only two days. “But the slow workings of Greek bureaucracy, and pressure by certain EU member states to keep migrants on the islands, have created overpopulation and suffering on both sides,” he explained.
Greek authorities were scrambling in February to house some 4000 people crammed into an overflowing migrant camp in Samos. The island was becoming a “new Lesbos,” the country’s Migration Minister warned as the growing number of migrants continued to be trapped in a reception centre six times over capacity.
“Samos is our biggest problem. The flows are constant and traffickers, it seems, are always one step ahead,” Dimitris Vitsas said in an interview. “The camp there is very overcrowded, with all the problems that this means.”
The vast majority of migrants kept in holding areas on Greece’s five Aegean islands are requesting asylum. Under EU rules, claims must be handled in locales where migrants and refugees first land.
Last year, arrivals in Greece from Turkey spiked by 284 percent. As a result, Greek authorities erected two additional transit camps.
There are already 26 refugee accommodation centres on the mainland.
German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr meanwhile said last week that Berlin did not intend to comment on the new Security Decree approved by the Italian government this week.
But she also said that “the criminalization of those who saves lives at sea is not desirable”. Among other things, the new Decree sees the commanders of ships who rescue people at sea and take them into Italian waters without permission face fines of up to one million euros and the impoundment of the vessel.