The island of Samos is one of the so-called hotspots in the Aegean Sea. Temporarily, up to 9000 people lived in the overcrowded camp near the island's capital Vathy. Much has changed in recent months. An update on the situation on Samos. Read here what has happened in the last year and why we collect donations for NGOs on Samos.
When the first ever Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) opened on Samos on 18 September 2021, politicians in Athens and Brussels alike celebrated the fact that they had taken a new path in European migration policy. In their eyes, a more successful and dignified path. From now on, images of inhumane conditions for refugees in overcrowded camps like those on Lesvos or Samos should be a thing of the past. The new camps, financed by the European Union, should provide more security and humane conditions. In addition, the waiting time in the facilities was to be shortened with faster procedures.
Already at that time, human rights organisations and refugees alike criticised the new conditions in the camps. The fear of being forgotten behind rows of barbed wire fences in a remote region on the island caused protests by people seeking protection before the opening. Despite NGO concerns and the rejection of the refugees, the CCAC opened in late summer 2021.
Since the end of our last campaign in Samos in February 2022, the number of asylum seekers on Samos has been increasing again. While in February there were just under 400 people living in the CCAC near the village of Zervou, there are now around 1200 refugees waiting for their asylum decision. This year alone, more than 1600 people arrived in over 70 boats. In comparison, in the whole of 2021 there were only 31 boats and around 450 people who successfully made the crossing to Samos.
In response, the Greek government is currently expanding the maximum capacity of 1500 places. The increase is hardly surprising; rather, it confirms the estimation of many NGOs that there are by no means fewer people seeking protection from persecution and war in Europe, but rather that the increase in pushbacks on land and on water ensures that fewer people reach the hotspots in the Aegean.
The biggest differences between the new camp and the old one near Vathy are the isolated location and the "opening hours". Especially the last one is a problem for many residents and has a negative impact on their mental health. Leaving the camp is allowed between 8 am and 8 pm, after which the nightly curfew comes into effect. According to residents, the people in the camp feel "like in a prison", or "treated like animals". The omnipresent surveillance technology, which is monitored 24/7 from a central office in Athens, and the controls at the entrance reinforce the impression of a prison that has little in common with a first reception centre.
Despite the promises of the Greek governments, there is still neither a doctor nor a supermarket in the camp. If you want to use such services, you have to go to Vathy. There is a regular bus transfer, but tickets cost €3.20 for a round trip. Too much for most asylum seekers, who receive only about 70€ per month. And the walk through the mountains would take an hour and a half each way.
The accommodation in containers instead of self-made huts and tents was supposed to improve the living conditions and offer protection from the weather. However, the camp was flooded for the first time during the first heavy rains in December 2021. And then in May 2022, there was no running water at all for a fortnight, so that the camp residents had to use bottled water from plastic bottles for showering. In June 2022, several air conditioners broke down. In summer, the thermometer on Samos often climbs above 40 degrees and the new location of the camp offers no protection from the burning sun. It is a scandal that the 43 million euros invested in the construction of the CCAC were used to carry out the simplest infrastructure work poorly. Money, that is from the European Union, which claims in the preamble of the "Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union" to be based on the "[...] indivisible and universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity". Once again, it is evident that these values do not apply to everyone.
In addition to all these incidents, an unprecedented exodus of aid organisations has taken place on Samos in the last year. A total of 14 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) left the island and with them a wide range of services for refugees, from medical care to hot meals to education. The remaining organisations are struggling not only with rising costs due to inflation, but also with less and less willingness to donate, as there is hardly any media focus on the situation of people seeking protection in Greece, especially since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.
For this reason, we as Project ELPIDA want to support three partner organisations in Samos for the second time. Just Action, Samos Volunteers and selfm.aid have been active on the ground for years and have also taken over activities from organisations that have left the island. In the course of our current fundraising campaign, we need your help!