04. November 2017 · Kommentare deaktiviert für „The Greek island camp where only the sick or pregnant can leave“ · Kategorien: Griechenland · Tags: ,

The Guardian | 04.11.2017

Thousands of refugees are living in squalid conditions on Samos, and a diagnosis of illness could be a ticket to getting out

Giorgos Christides and Olga Stefatou in Samos, Greece

Eida was two months pregnant when she suffered a miscarriage.

A month later, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee still feels angry and despondent. Not just that she lost a child. But that being pregnant was her ticket off the Greek island of Samos – and out of a squalid, barren, barb-wired camp.

The young woman is one of around 3,000 refugees in Samos, one of the five Greek “hotspot” islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, designated by the EU to act as a barricade against massive irregular migrant arrivals from Turkey.

Since March 2016, when Brussels concluded a controversial agreement with Ankara to curb migrant flows, only vulnerable cases are transferred from the hotspots to the Greek mainland. Eida had hoped to become one of those cases.

The rest are left with two options: languish under deplorable conditions in the camps until their asylum claims are examined, or pay local smuggling networks €1,000 or more to get ferried to the mainland.

Anastasia Theodoridou, head of social services at Samos state hospital, says she routinely deals with cases like Eida’s. “Dozens of women come to the hospital desperate to find out they are pregnant. Other refugees are eager for a diagnosis of any serious condition. And if there is nothing wrong with them, they bring their spouses and children. Maybe one of them might have a chance of a diagnosis.”

According to internal documents, the Samos hospital has handled 7,857 visits by refugees since the start of the year.

The grotesque paradox of refugees hoping to be ill to get favourable treatment casts a shadow on the EU’s narrative about the success of its response to the refugee crisis.

The rosy outlook from Brussels is often based on statistics that show a sharp reduction in irregular daily crossings and deaths in the Aegean.

This in turn has resulted in a broad desertion of the tragedy by the international community: journalists have long since gone home, NGOs are packing up, volunteers are few and far between and official funding has been reduced.

But despite substantial EU support to Athens – €430m has been contracted according to the European commission – conditions at the Greek hotspots remain appalling. With the focus now shifting to refugees crossing the sea from Libya, Tunisia or Algeria, the situation here is still no less dramatic than a year ago. It is still a massive crisis, albeit a somewhat forgotten one.

Just how appalling conditions are is immediately clear at the Samos camp at Vathy, a town of 6,200 people built like an amphitheatre to overlook a beautiful port. The camp is just 200 metres from the town proper and was built to host 700 people. Now that the number of refugees is more than four times the camp’s capacity, hundreds are forced to sleep rough or inside flimsy tents.

A second, makeshift camp has emerged, which becomes engulfed by sand and dirt whenever the wind blows and could be easily swept away in the first heavy rainfall. “We feel abandoned,” says Diab, a 23-year-old from Homs, Syria, protesting the scarcity of medicine, clothes, supplies, quality food, hygiene.

Diab is here with his family, which includes a six-year-old boy who hides behind his mother at the first loud noise or sight of a stranger – he was traumatised by the bombing in Syria, Diab explains.

They live outside the main camp, in a small tent in the woods, which provides little protection from the elements and was recently flooded after a brief spell of rain.

The only clothes they have are the ones they are wearing. In the morning they line up at the single fountain to get running water. But they avoid using the toilets inside the camp. For good reason: they are few and filthy.

Refugees and international organisations such as UNHCR, Amnesty International and Médecins Sans Frontières are worried about the arrival of winter and urging authorities to move faster with their “winterisation” efforts. But refugees say that when they ask for winter clothes and blankets, the answer they get is always the same: “Tomorrow, tomorrow.”

“Decongestion” is a word you hear everywhere in Samos. Almost everyone wants to see the refugees off the island. That includes activists, leftwing politicians and NGO workers. They say refugees must be properly housed on the mainland. But they also fear that if they remain on the island in such numbers and under such conditions, extremists who are already exploiting the locals’ fears will shift Samos to the far right.

Samos could prove fertile ground. The island is only a mile from Greece’s traditional arch rival Turkey, separated by the narrow Mycale strait. Its 32,000 residents remain fiercely patriotic. Many locals have a hard time accepting the ongoing presence of large numbers of refugees on their island. They are becoming increasingly agitated. Policemen dwell on quiet days long gone, before the refugee crisis. Stories about migrant criminality abound, even though only minor offences have ever been reported to the authorities.

Local politicians and media, even the island’s powerful church, are justifying if not actively feeding the resentment. Eusebius of Samos and Ikaria, the local bishop, recently sent a letter to the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, warning that the situation on the island was “dramatic” and calling new arrivals an “onslaught”.

In this climate, any government initiative to alleviate the situation triggers fierce, even hostile opposition. Thoughts of creating a second “hotspot” have foundered. Efforts to expand a programme that places refugees in rented homes is also going nowhere, although there is no shortage of empty houses in some of the island’s scarcely populated villages. Recently, violent clashes broke out among residents of one village, when NGO employees and homeowners willing to rent to refugee families were manhandled by outraged protesters.

Perhaps nowhere is the anti-migrant sentiment so pronounced as in Mytilinioi, a beautiful, lush village of 2,000 souls, six miles (10km) south-west of Vathy. The community president, Giorgos Eleftheroglou, is one of the most outspoken critics of refugees on the entire island. And that is saying something. Over 70 but still nimble, Eleftheroglou says any attempt to bring refugees to his village will be met with resistance. Perhaps even armed resistance.

“We will take our rifles and stand against the NGOs or anyone else who tries to impose them on us,” he says. He is careful to add that he does not intend to shoot at refugees. Still, he has assembled a small team of aspiring vigilantes he calls his “assault group”.

And then Eleftheroglou poses a loaded rhetorical question: “What if the migrants cause public disorder, or set something on fire? I have no fire service, no police here, nothing. What am I supposed to do? Let my village burn?”

He is the president, after all. “I have a duty to do whatever it takes.”

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