Earlier in September, fires destroyed Moria refugee camp, an overcrowded facility on the Greek island of Lesvos, leaving 11,000 asylum seekers without shelter and sleeping out in the open in streets, fields and beaches.

Moria is the largest of five centres on Greece’s Aegean islands and has become a symbol of Europe’s response to the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants on boats from nearby Turkey.

Before the devastating fires, conditions at the camp were already extremely dire.

The centre was constructed to shelter around 2,200 people, but the population has swelled to over 18,000. People were without even the basics in terms of hygiene, toilets, security and medical services.

Families were forced to queue for hours to get food, water and to wash, electricity cuts have been frequent and each toilet in the informal settlement has been shared by more than 100 people.

One of the main reasons for the strained resources has been the lack of action on the transfer of asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation on the mainland. While new people keep arriving, few have been able to leave – and the numbers keep growing.

Sardar used to work as a doctor at a hospital in northern Afghanistan where he lived with his family before he was forced to flee his country.

He was living in a small tent on the edge of the centre with his wife, their four children as well as his father-in-law who was blinded in a rocket attack several years ago and needs care.

Earlier in September fires destroyed Moria refugee camp, the largest of the five centres on Greece's Aegean islands. © UNHCR/A. Zavallis

Life is very difficult here... Conditions in this camp are not acceptable,” Sardar said.

“The life here in Moria one day [it will] finish, and we can go to a good place, which we can make our future good.”

Sardar spent most days lining up to collect rations of food and water. One day, he went with his children to a communal water point. The taps had run dry so they were unable to fill their plastic bottles.

“In every family one person should spend all the day for the line of food. When we arrived here we see there is no water. Now we must go without water again to home. It's our daily life.”

Authorities have tried improving the situation for people considered most vulnerable but the increase in numbers means people are forced to wait for the help they need.

The fires at Moria in September reinforce the long-standing need to take action to improve living conditions, alleviate overcrowding, and improve security, infrastructure and access to services in all five reception centres on the Greek islands.

UNHCR is once again urging Greece to intensify efforts to address overcrowding and improve conditions and has appealed to the Greek government to use emergency measures to expedite its plans to transfer a greater number of asylum-seekers to appropriate accommodation on the mainland.

Sardar used to work as a doctor at a hospital in northern Afghanistan where he lived with his family before he was forced to flee his country. © UNHCR/A. Zavallis

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