The now closed former camp for asylum seekers on Samos, Greece, on October 22, 2021 | Photo: EPA/Michael Svarnias
The now closed former camp for asylum seekers on Samos, Greece, on October 22, 2021 | Photo: EPA/Michael Svarnias

The Greek Council for Refugees has released a damning report on the 'tragic' conditions at the new migrant camp on the island of Samos. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently lauded the camp as 'impeccable'.

Migrants and refugees living at the recently opened new camp on the Greek island of Samos face isolation, social exclusion and confinement, as the camp "functions more like a prison" than a reception facility, according to a report released by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) in Mid-November.

The report comes after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking at a press conference on November 10, had called the facility on Samos "impeccable".

The newly-built reception and identification center on the Aegean Island of Samos had opened in September. It is one of five new so-called "closed and controlled" centers which Greece plans to build.

Camp 'functions more like a prison', report

The Samos facility is about nine kilometers from the nearest urban center, Vathi, and about 11 kilometers from the nearest hospital. The bus ticket costs €1.60 per route, €3.20 with return -- an amount that actually exceeds the daily financial aid of €2.50 for each refugee, or €1.75 for members of a family of four.

The GCR report features an account detailing the experience of a family of Kurdish refugees during their first two months at the site:

"There are days when we need to go down to the city center of the main town to go to the hospital, to the pharmacy, to meet a lawyer. I had surgery here in Greece and I have to be monitored regularly by a doctor. In the new structure there is a doctor here only in the morning. For all this we need to move to Vathi and there is no money. There is no supermarket inside the camp, the meals they give out are not good or not enough. […] Our situation was tragic before in the old camp and now in the new structure it is tragic again."

Such comments refute the image conveyed by Mitsotakis who spoke of "a perfect structure, perfect conditions with EU funding, clean facilities, with playgrounds so that children can play -- there is no comparison with the situation in the past."

Residents under 'constant surveillance'

However, as the report points out, the conditions are that of isolation, social exclusion and confinement. The structure is "surrounded by double barbed wire and guarded around the clock by 50 uniformed guards, police or private guards." Additionally, entry and exit are allowed only at scheduled times.

The report says: "Inspections are exhaustive, both for the residents and for the visitors who provide services: physical search, bag search, metal detectors. If one does not show up then one risks the possibility of losing their accommodation, financial aid and food provided. Residents are under constant surveillance by a closed-circuit surveillance system that transmits video to the police in real time."

The report adds: "Enforcing all these kinds of things on these people's lives in a closed structure, in the context of strict planning and control, implies the absence of privacy, the destruction of their identity and dignity, amounting to what is a policy of deprivation of freedom and insult to human dignity."

New asylum applications restricted by location

In related developments, the Greek authorities on November 22 issued a government circular establishing that asylum applications in Greece can only be filed on the Aegean Islands and at the Evros Reception and Identification Center, meaning that irrespective of where asylum seekers enter the country, they must go to one of those locations (Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Leros, Kos and/or Orestiada).

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) reported that following strong opposition in parliament against the new rules, the government retreated and issued a new circular on November 24 clarifying that applicants will not be transferred from the mainland to the islands. Rather, the island centers will exclusively process the cases of people arriving by sea.

According to the migration ministry, the migrant population hosted on the Eastern Aegean Islands has decreased from 17,057 in July 2019 to 3,851 today -- i.e. from 20% to 10% of the total number of migrants in Greece. Regarding the Evros outpost camp, a total of 246 asylum seekers reportedly remain there for registration today.


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