Photo: private

The situation on Samos island has reached the edge as the grim conditions under which hundreds of refugees live in Vathi hotspot are a humanitarian disaster. Meanwhile, reactions by local society including xenophobic voices are strengthened. PRO ASYL / RSA have repeatedly highlighted concerns over the toxic impact of the EU-Turkey deal.

As of 14 Febru­ary, Vat­hi hot­spot was serious­ly over­c­row­ded and hos­ted 3,743 per­sons while its capa­ci­ty is for 650 and despi­te govern­ment pro­mi­ses for impro­ve­ments, the situa­ti­on appears to get worse.  Of par­ti­cu­lar con­cern is the situa­ti­on of unac­com­pa­nied child­ren who resi­de in the hot­spot. Accor­ding to the UN Refu­gee Agen­cy, in Decem­ber 2018 unac­com­pa­nied child­ren in Vat­hi hot­spot were forced to take turns to sleep due to lack of mat­tres­ses. In the infor­mal camp next to the hot­spot, tens of refu­gees inclu­ding fami­lies with small child­ren are forced to live in tents and are expo­sed to the adver­se wea­ther conditions.

Accor­ding to reports, the­re is no doc­tor in the hot­spot from the Greek Cent­re for Dise­a­se Con­trol and Pre­ven­ti­on (H.C.D.C.P) sin­ce the last and only one resi­gned ear­lier this Febru­ary. As a result, it has fal­len upon the under­staf­fed Samos hos­pi­tal to pro­vi­de essen­ti­al health­ca­re to the thou­sands of refu­gees living in the hot­spot and the island.  The lack of medi­cal staff in the hot­spot impacts not only the health­ca­re of refu­gees but also the vul­nerabi­li­ty assess­ment pro­ce­du­re. This leads to delays of trans­fers of tho­se vul­nerable to the mainland.


peo­p­le are curr­ent­ly living in Vat­hi hotspot

It is worth not­ing that Greece has been reques­ted by the EU to take steps so that Samos struc­tures can host 1,500 by Sep­tem­ber 2019.  In the begin­ning of Decem­ber 2018, Vivi Michou, the Gene­ral Direc­tor of Migra­ti­on Poli­cy and Inter­nal Affairs in the Euro­pean Com­mis­si­on, sta­ted that the situa­ti­on in Samos hot­spot is worse than that of Moria on Lesvos.

In addi­ti­on, Dimit­ris Vits­as, Minis­ter for Migra­ti­on Poli­cy, admit­ted ear­ly this month that the situa­ti­on on Samos has excee­ded the limits and sta­ted that a second asyl­um unit will be send to the island to acce­le­ra­te the asyl­um pro­ce­du­re and 250 unac­com­pa­nied child­ren would be trans­fer­red to the mainland.


is the ori­gi­nal capacity

Even child­ren have to live in tents like this for months. Pho­to: RSA

Accor­ding to UNHCR, in recent weeks trans­fers from the islands of the Aege­an to the main­land have drop­ped. For exam­p­le, bet­ween 4 and 10 Febru­ary only 265 trans­fers have taken place in com­pa­ri­son to the peri­od of 7 to 13 Janu­ary when a total of 735 per­sons had been trans­fer­red to the main­land.  At the same time, during 4 and 10 Febru­ary, Samos had 105 refu­gee arri­vals and Les­vos, 213. It is obvious that trans­fers are not enough as arri­vals equal the depar­tures to the mainland.

Refugees protesting over living conditions

At the end of Janu­ary, hundreds of refu­gees pro­tes­ted on Samos once more for the dire living con­di­ti­ons and asked for their trans­fer to the main­land and mul­ti­ple artic­les in natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal media descri­bed the despe­ra­te situation.

»In the food queu­es, the­re is a lot of ten­si­on. I ask money from my rela­ti­ves so that I can buy some food«

Alan from Syria

Alan* a refu­gee from Syria who spend the first four months after his arri­val in 2018 on the island in a tent; he now lives in a con­tai­ner. He told us: “When I arri­ved on Samos and the aut­ho­ri­ties trans­fer­red me to the hot­spot, I had to buy a tent and set it up whe­re the­re was an emp­ty space. The big­gest pro­blem for refu­gees is that a lar­ge num­ber lives in tents and the food we are given is of real­ly bad qua­li­ty. In the food queu­es, the­re is a lot of ten­si­on. I ask money from my rela­ti­ves so that I can buy some food”.  As far as legal sup­port for his asyl­um appli­ca­ti­on, Alan told us that legal aid is limi­t­ed and as a result he was forced to seek the ser­vices of a pri­va­te lawy­er. Mean­while, the date for the exami­na­ti­on of his asyl­um cla­im has been sche­du­led for 2020 and he does not know whe­ther he can sur­vi­ve under the con­di­ti­ons he is forced to live. At the same time, he feels unde­si­red on the island.

Fuelled xenophobia

On 7 Febru­ary, a gene­ral strike took place that had as a focus the refu­gee issue on the island. Tho­se par­ti­ci­pa­ting ran­ged from groups who in the past had a neu­tral posi­ti­on on the refu­gee issue such as workers’ trade uni­ons. On the other hand, other groups par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the strike had in the past expres­sed xeno­pho­bic rhe­to­ric and had express­ly sta­ted that their oppo­si­ti­on to the pre­sence of refu­gees and migrants on the island.  The per­sis­tent non-ful­film­ent of poli­ti­cal pro­mi­ses by the Minis­try of Migra­ti­on Poli­cy regar­ding the impro­ve­ment of recep­ti­on con­di­ti­ons and trans­fers of vul­nerable refu­gees to the main­land has led to the crea­ti­on of a poli­ti­cal front against the pre­sence of the hot­spot on the island.

Pho­to: RSA

Tho­se par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the cur­rent strike asked among­st others for clo­sure of Vat­hi hot­spot, for the govern­ment to stop the plans for the estab­lish­ment of a new hot­spot, for the trans­fer of refu­gees to the main­land and the end of the EU-Tur­key deal. But repor­ted­ly the main mes­sa­ge from this strike was to remo­ve  refu­gees from the island in order to avo­id more con­se­quen­ces upon the local socie­ty and economy.

An island with no structures

The situa­ti­on on the island is explo­si­ve and refu­gees expe­ri­ence dai­ly hosti­li­ty by parts of the local popu­la­ti­on.  Gia­se­mo Keha­gia is an acti­vist from the Move­ment for Human Rights – Soli­da­ri­ty on Samos and spo­ke to Refu­gee Sup­port Aege­an about the situa­ti­on in Vat­hi whe­re the hot­spot is situa­ted.  “The town does not have basic public faci­li­ties such as public toi­lets and show­ers; The­re are no places for sports recei­ving the refu­gees or any other enter­tain­ment places; Shop owners many times demand they lea­ve their shops, main­ly cafes and restaurants…Africans in par­ti­cu­lar expe­ri­ence more racism….”.

Even teachers did not escape xenophobic attacks

Ano­ther serious cau­se of con­cern is rela­ted to the ten­si­ons regar­ding the edu­ca­ti­on of refu­gee child­ren.  At the end of Janu­ary, tea­chers expres­sing their sup­port to refu­gee child­ren atten­ding Samos schools were atta­cked by par­ents during a mee­ting of Par­ents’ Asso­cia­ti­ons on the island.  This is ano­ther inci­dent that fol­lows pre­vious xeno­pho­bic attacks to refu­gees, soli­da­ri­ty citi­zens and NGO staff.

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.