More Refugee, Migrant Arrivals Pile Pressure on Overrun Samos

Τhe refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos. (Photo by ND's Press Office/Dimitris Papamitsos via Eurokinissi)

Almost within shouting distance of Turkey, which has been allowing human traffickers to operate during a swap deal with the European Union, the island of Samos is bursting with refugees and migrants jammed into a detention center 500 percent over capacity.

Milder spring weather has seen more risking the perilous sea journey to reach the Greek island where there are more than 4,000 people jammed into a center designed to hold only 650, and as officials and residents are showing signs of compassion fatigue, asking for help.

Dozens of people are reaching Samos, as well as Lesvos and other islands in the eastern Aegean, daily on boats from Turkey, said Kathimerini, even as officials have pleaded for the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA to move more to the mainland, where there are another 55,000 housed, most – like the some 15,000 on islands – seeking asylum.

Showing growing frustration with a detention center on their island, a growing number of parents on Samos are keeping their children out of primary school to protest  the admission of refugee and migrant children.

Media reports earlier in March said 106 out of 150 pupils at the Ano Vatheos school didn’t go as parents extended their boycott in complaint of what they said would be exposing their children to health risks with the camps said to be a fertile ground for diseases.

The Education Ministry accused the parents of trying “to cultivate a climate of racism and xenophobia,” although residents and officials on the island within sight of Turkey, which has been allowing human traffickers to work during a suspended refugee swap deal with the European Union, said the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA is doing too little to help.

In February, more than 2500 people on the island protested the refugee center that was meant to house 650 but has more than 3,685 that residents want shut down.

Businesses and other organizations want the refugees and migrants who were sent to the island by human traffickers in Turkey, the first destination as they fled war and strife in the Middle East and elsewhere, moved to the mainland right away.

Fearing being sent back to Turkey or their own countries, especially a civil war that hit Syria, most are seeking asylum in Greece after the European Union closed its borders to them and reneged on promises to help take some of the overload.

Human rights groups and activists have repeatedly said the detention centers and camps aren’t suitable for people to live in and on Samos, municipal officials and residents have Dozens of camp residents took part in peaceful protest rallies in recent months calling for better shelters – most are staying in summer tents – sanitation and safety, but mainly to be transferred to the mainland.