Refugees in Greece in new, closed camps

Status: 11/24/2021 3:58 p.m.

After the Moria disaster, the EU is helping to build new refugee camps on Greek islands. They are modern, but closed and far from places. Critics remind the buildings of prisons.

By Verena Schälters, ARD-Studio Athens

Daniela Steuermann can still remember very well when she saw the newly built refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos for the first time: “You drive on the road and you have this massive camp on your left, surrounded by barbed wire. Then you can see a huge street on which the police cars patrol and then comes the next high fence, “says Steuermann. “I found that very, very oppressive. And it actually reminded me of an open-air prison.”

The helmsman is a nurse and medical project manager for the aid organization Doctors Without Borders on Samos. She has been working there since March and therefore knows the old warehouse at Vathi very well. The camp was designed for 650 people. When Daniela Steuermann arrived, 2,500 people were living there, a year ago there were even around 4,600 people.

Rats, snakes, scorpions

The living conditions there were extremely difficult. “Especially because there were a lot of problems with garbage disposal. That means that people have of course also had a lot of contact with rats, snakes and scorpions, which on the one hand represented a major health problem.”

Because the camp was overcrowded, people lived in self-made huts or in tents. There was a lack of showers and toilets. In addition, fires have broken out in the camp again and again because residents started fires to heat tents or make tea. Conditions like in a slum – and that in the middle of Europe.

Security locks and NATO wire

The answer from the Greek government can now be examined behind a mountain about five kilometers away, shielded by NATO barbed wire and security gates.

“Today’s event not only marks the closure of the camp in Vathi, but a completely new phase. I welcome you with great joy and satisfaction to the first modern, closed and controlled facility on Samos,” said Notis Mitarakis, the Greek migration minister at the Opening of the new camp in the presence of the EU’s Deputy Secretary General for Migration and Home Affairs, Beate Gminder.

Because the camp on Samos serves Greece and the EU as a pilot project: In the coming months, four more such camps are to be built on the Aegean islands of Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Leros. The EU has made 276 million euros available for this. The new facility on Samos guarantees the safety of its residents as well as the safety of the local population.

“Like in a prison”

In practice, however, this means: The people in the camp are treated like prisoners, according to Steuermann. “It starts with people having to go through a huge metal door. The police wait on the other side, then their pockets are searched, every time they go in,” says Steuermann. “You will be asked with a metal detector whether you have any knives or weapons with you. And then you have to undergo the examination. It’s like being in a prison for me.”

In addition: The new warehouse is far away from any locality. The next village is about five kilometers away, the bus trip there and back costs 3.60 euros – too expensive for many in the camp.

But the fact that the camp is so far out is no coincidence: The initial great willingness to help of the local population on the Greek islands at the beginning of the refugee crisis has turned into rejection in many places over the years – also because tourism has suffered.

For Mitsotakis, it’s also about image issues

But that is about to change: “The image, not just of Samos, but in the entire North Aegean and East Aegean has nothing in common with the image we had when the Greek people entrusted us with the government of the country 27 months ago “said the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during his visit to Samos.

His government took on the promise to help the islands get rid of their image as refugee hotspots and that includes: New refugee camps will only be set up outside of cities and towns, if at all.

On the island of Lesbos, too, for months it was impossible to agree on an area on which a new camp should be built, after the notorious camp in Moria burned down completely over a year ago.

In the meantime, the communities have agreed on a site: It is located about 30 kilometers from the capital Mytilene in a forest area, right next to the garbage dump.

On the edge of Europe: new refugee camps on Greek islands

Verena Schälter, ARD Athens, 24.11.2021 · 15:13

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