Refugees arriving in Piraeus from the Greek island of Samos. Photo | EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
Refugees arriving in Piraeus from the Greek island of Samos. Photo | EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS

Amnesty International says the migrant camp on the Greek island of Samos is "crawling with rats". After a visit to the island, the human rights group has renewed calls for migrants in the overcrowded camps to be transferred to the Greek mainland.

A team of Amnesty International researchers was in Samos last week to assess the living conditions of refugees and immigrants in camps on the island. The team reported that the camp was massively overcrowded and described it as a security and health nightmare.

"Serious impact of EU-Turkey agreement"

Gabriel Sakellaridis, the Director of Amnesty International in Greece, says the visit proves the serious impact the EU-Turkey agreement has on human rights. "We have seen hundreds of people sleeping in improvised accommodation, being exposed to strong winds and rain while complaining that the area they are living in is crawling with rats due to poor sanitation," he said

According to the UNHCR, about 1,500 migrants are living in the Samos camp, which has a capacity for just 700. This overcrowding has created serious hygiene and safety problems, due to the absence of enough sanitary facilities, toilets and showers. Amnesty International reported that some migrant parents had said they had set up shifts at night to make sure their children were safe from the rats. At the same time, AI reported that the security problem is especially acute for women and minors. Dozens of unaccompanied women they spoke to said that they had been forced to share accommodation with strangers and were afraid of walking around the camp alone. Sakellaridis described the fact that women were forced to sleep in tents or to share accommodation with strangers as unacceptable. "The provision of accommodation in camps should be based on the special needs of the residents and, above all, to ensure their safety," he said.

"People are going crazy"

Amnesty also reports that the police stations in the Aegean islands are being used as detention centers for those who have been refused asylum claims. According to NGOs providing services to prisoners, many men have been held in the police stations for months, in inappropriate places for long-term detention. One migrant told Amnesty: "There is no natural light in this place; there are no mattresses or pillows. People who are detained are going crazy if they are not already crazy."

Amnesty has called on Greece's Minister of Immigration Policy, Yiannis Mouzalas, and the Greek authorities to:

  • Ensure that no person is left in improvised tents and that accommodation will be based on the specific needs of residents such as the safety of women and unaccompanied children. No woman should be forced to share accommodation or tents with strangers.
  • Immediately improve the conditions in the camp, ensuring adequate, safe toilets and showers and providing safe spaces where residents can socialize.
  • Remove the unacceptable geographical limitation of these people on the islands and to transfer them directly to mainland Greece in order to ensure their adequate reception and accommodation and to examine their asylum applications with security and dignity.

13,000 Still trapped on Greek islands

As the two-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey agreement approaches (March 18), there are still over 13,000 men, women and children stranded at refugee camps on the Aegean islands according to government statistics. An #OpentheIslands campaign led by a number of human rights groups including Amnesty International began on December 1 last year. It called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to end the so called "containment policy“. The government did take action and transferred more than 7,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland as an emergency measure. 

But, because the number of arrivals since then has exceeded 5,000 people, the inappropriate and improvised accommodation in the already overcrowded camps continues. This is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the islands, and the situation is not helped by the large number of backlogged asylum applications which Greece's asylum service struggles to handle.

With increased tensions in Syria causing many people to flee the country, Greece is bracing for more arrivals in the coming weeks and months. "People seeking protection from war or abuse should not feel insecure when they reach the Greek islands," said Eva Cossé, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Greek and European authorities must restore the dignity and humanity of people seeking protection, starting with the abolition of political restraint, which has caused terrible pain."


More articles