ATHENS – A European Union 43-million euro ($44.7 million) new refugee Closed Controlled Access Center (CCAC) for asylum seekers on the island of Samos was applauded by authorities as a model camp but isn’t getting good reviews from those detained.
In a valley near the town of Vathy on an island only 1.2 miles from to Turkey’s coast, the camp was touted as an answer to dealing with at one point were scores of thousands of refugees and more trying to reach Greek islands.
They used Turkey as a jumping off point, going there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan but as far as Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
A 2016 now essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union under which Turkey is supposed to contain 4.4 million refugees and migrants has instead seen the country allowing human traffickers to keep sending them.
For almost seven years Greece has struggled to deal with the hordes seeking asylum after the EU closed its borders to them, dumping the problem on the country when it was undergoing and economic and austerity crisis.
The new camp, over the objections of some residents weary of hosting refugees and migrants, was opened in September 2021 and those detained there it’s like a modern jail, not a camp, said the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in a feature report.
The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum would not allow CBC inside the Samos camp, citing an “excessive workload,” and in a statement, Greek authorities said the living conditions are far from harsh in these kinds of facilities, saying they create “a sense of security for the residents of the islands and between the migrants.”The camp is surrounded by multiple barbed-wire fences and equipped with a security system that includes CCTV cameras, magnetic gates and X-ray technology. Entry and exit are controlled and a curfew is imposed at night,
Anitta Hipper, the EU Commission spokesperson for Home Affairs, told the news site that it instead “represents a significant improvement of reception conditions for asylum applicants.”
She said it’s not technically a closed facility because it has an entrance and exit system but many of those kept there aren’t buying that argument and are complaining about it.
“When you first see it, it looks a bit like a prison,” Sae Bosco, the communications and advocacy co-ordinator at Samos Volunteers, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) told the site.
She said residents there said it’s too restrictive. “They feel like they did something wrong, but haven’t. It’s difficult for them to have a normal life … it’s really negative on people’s mental health,” she said.
Samos saw more than 1600 refugees and migrants come so far in 2022 during the waning COVID-19 pandemic but it’s rising again although the onset of winter and the perils of trying to cross the Aegean, sent by human traffickers, tends to slow.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that Greece has recorded more than 13,500 arrivals so far this year, including around 9,000 by sea, others trying to cross the land border with Turkey near the treacherous Evros River where a wall is being extended to keep them out.
The majority of them have been from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria or the Palestinian territories, and are coming from traumatic situations and some saying it’s being perpetuated in Greece where the New Democracy government has been accused of pushing them back, which it denies.
Ella Dodd, a legal co-ordinator at I Have Rights, another NGO in Samos, who works daily with asylum seekers said the fear the officers policing the camp, who have a reputation for forcing migrants back across borders.
“People are terrified about speaking out about the police violence … because they are (under) constant control by the police. You have people who have been pushed back many times before, and they are aware of who did these pushbacks,” she said.
Turkey hasn’t been penalized for allowing traffickers to keep sending them while criticizing Greece for the alleged pushbacks, with human rights groups, activists and NGO’s also complaining it’s being done.
A first camp on Samos held 7000 people there in a space built for 700 and there were inhumane conditions, critics said, including not enough toilets, drinking water or electricity, and with rats and snakes.
While NGOs agree that sanitary conditions have improved with the new CCAC camp, most of these workers have refused to work inside the facility, in protest, the Italian news site also said.
“With the old camp, we used to have people waiting for a year before having an (asylum) interview date. Now, it will be a matter of weeks or months after their arrival – and then the decision comes out very quickly,” she said.
“Authorities don’t do a good job and properly investigate people’s claims,” she said, although it used to take up to two years of waiting to get an answer.
“I really think Samos is kind of a big trial.… It’s really scary, because people in this camp become invisible, because you put people in the middle of nowhere,” said Bosco. “This makes the problem invisible.”