By Karolen Eid

KARA TEPE, Greece – The refugee camp here is lined with picket fences. Colorful murals decorate its walls. Park benches are scattered in its center around a sign that reads “Kara Tepe Square.”

For the organizers of the camp, which is run by the city of Lesbos, dignity is a priority. They call the camp a hospitality center. Sectors are “neighborhoods” and the refugees are “residents.” Instead of food lines, the residents get meals delivered to their doors.

The locals who work here believe that these small changes make a difference in the eyes of the residents. “We’re trying to play a little bit with the minds and the psychologies of the people,” said Manos Chatzelis, one of the camp’s coordinators.

The hospitality center is home to hundreds of individuals and families stuck on the island of Lesbos, waiting for their asylum papers to be processed. The center tries to occupy their time with organized activities. The residents tend to a garden filled with sunflowers. The “women’s space” holds museum trips for the women. Children play together in a bright playground.

Near “Kara Tepe Square,” Ahmed Albumohamed, a resident who lives in the camp with his wife and four daughters, sat in the shade while holding a smartphone video call with his brother in Iraq. A journalist, Albumohamed’s brother was injured while reporting on the war in Mosul. Over the phone, they laughed that he is beaten every other day because of his job. Albumohamed said that he usually makes phone calls in that area of the camp because the Internet connection is stronger there.

Kara Tepe is operating at its capacity of 1,200 residents. When spaces open, they often are given to women, children and others with vulnerabilities.

Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos

Three miles away is Moria camp, run by the federal government and surrounded by towering fences adorned with razor wire. Outside, a strong odor escapes from a sewage leak. Ringing the camp are small makeshift cafés where migrants and volunteers go to escape the noise and crowds inside.

Inside are rows of prefab ISOBOXes, the converted containers that migrants call home. Due to overcrowding, the boxes are stacked three high, one atop the other, with external stairs connecting top to bottom. Clothes hang along ropes between the boxes. Residents describe long food distribution lines at mealtimes where they wait for hours to receive meals. A path cuts through the middle of the camp, busy with residents, volunteers, employees and police.

Next door, tents dot a hilly olive grove, in an area now referred to as “the single men’s camp.” According to the camp director, who asked not to be named, when fights break out between groups of different backgrounds, men throw rocks from the top of the hill.

Nevertheless, authorities are grateful for use of this olive grove. Moria camp holds thousands beyond its official capacity. This overcrowding inside the camp has led to unsanitary conditions, violence and police intervention. It is not uncommon for riots to break out.

For new arrivals, the three miles between Moria and Kara Tepe can make all the difference.