Why Lesvos Should Care About Dublin: The Refugee Crisis

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readJul 8, 2024

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Sejal Mayer-Patel (PPS ‘24)

Sejal Mayer-Patel (PPS ‘24)
Sejal Mayer-Patel (PPS ‘24)

At first glance, Dublin and Lesvos do not have much in common. As the third-largest Greek Island, Lesvos is a mountainous island with a temperate Mediterranean climate. On the other hand, Dublin is a bustling hub in colder Ireland. However, a regulation signed in 1990 in Dublin directly affects the residents of Lesvos to this day.

The Dublin Regulation is an agreement between all members of the European Union (EU) that any refugee asylum seekers must be processed in the country that they enter first. The goal of the regulation is to ensure that asylum applications are processed and to prevent applicants from submitting multiple asylum applications or transferring from state-to-state. However, the result is an unequal burden on border countries. In 2014, 72% of asylum requests were processed by five EU countries. In 2015, Lesvos hosted more than 500,000 migrants and asylum seekers, 59% of all migrants and asylum seekers that transited through Greece that year. Although refugee migration peaked in 2015, Lesvos still hosts a disproportionate number of refugees. Currently, there are 19,100 asylum seekers on the islands Lesvos, Samos, and Chios. From 2014 to present-day, the consistent burden of refugees in Lesvos represents the inefficiencies of the Dublin Regulation.

In conjunction with the Dublin Regulation, an EU-Turkey deal has resulted in Lesvos becoming a ‘refugee prison’. In accordance with the Dublin Regulation, current asylum seekers are forced to stay in Lesvos until the asylum claim is decided, the timeline of which is unclear. In addition, the EU-Turkey deal places refugees arriving from Turkey under ‘geographical restriction’, meaning that refugees are not allowed to travel to mainland Greece until their cases are concluded. Turkey has also banned readmission to Turkey, resulting in the entrapment of thousands of refugees on Lesvos. These policies have been enacted without consulting Lesvos residents. The Lesvos protestor chant, “our islands are not concentration camps”, highlights the opposition to these policies and the resulting containment of asylum seekers.

The refugee crisis has also prevented economic recovery on the island because economic opportunity is stunted by the EU refugee camps. After the Greek government-debt crisis began in 2010, the government reduced spending. Since over ¼ of workers in the North Aegean region, including Lesvos, are employed by the state, the reduced spending thrust the Lesvos economy into instability. In addition, Lesvos saw a 60–70% decrease in tourism after refugees began to flock to the island. The tourist revenue they do make is largely due to aid-workers staying on the island, but unlike typical tourists, the aid-workers are not adding to potential revenue from restaurants and island attractions. Accommodating for the refugee camps and aid workers has prevented Lesvos from gaining needed tourism revenue to balance the instability from the government-debt crisis. To rebuild their economy, Lesvos needs space and stability which requires an EU refugee policy change.

The EU has attempted to reform the Dublin Regulation in the past, but a redistribution clause is necessary to relieve Lesvos and its residents from the disproportionate burden of asylum applications. A redistribution clause would create an avenue for refugee asylum requests to be transferred to an EU country with less refugee migration. Although protests have occurred, Lesvos citizens and local officials need to put more pressure on the EU council to change the Dublin Regulation. A redistribution clause would drastically decrease the burden on not only Lesvos, but Greece as a whole. Less refugees on Lesvos would decrease the density within the refugee camps, reducing the needed aid-workers, and expanding the space for Lesvos to focus on their residents.

Unfortunately, applying direct pressure on the European Commission (EC), the officials that adopted the Dublin Regulation, is complicated. Closing Lesvos to refugees would hurt asylum-seeking refugees which is not ideal. Residents of Lesvos have requested more sustainable alternative camps until the permanent change can occur, but this is a temporary solution. Instead, Lesvos needs to refuse to work with upper-Greek authorities or the EC to expedite changes to the Dublin Regulation.

The EU relies on Lesvos to take in refugees that they have committed to helping but do not want to change their laws for. If Lesvos makes it clear that they will not participate with the EC until a redistribution clause is added to the Dublin Regulation, reform can happen.

Sejal Mayer-Patel (PPS ’24) is from Durham, North Carolina and is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.

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