Refugees at overcrowded Samos camp face harsh winter

World Today

Refugees at overcrowded Samos camp face harsh winter

In March 2016 Europe signed a controversial deal with Turkey to curb illegal migration into the continent. EU countries designated five Greek islands to become Europe’s buffer zone. Samos is one of them. Asylum seekers who arrive from Turkey are restricted on the island for months, waiting for the process of their asylum applications.

CGTN’s Filio Kontrafouri got inside the overcrowded Samos refugee camp, where thousands of refugees live in appalling conditions.

If there’s a place where desperation has settled this winter it’s here. At the refugee camp of Samos. CGTN gained rare access to film inside for 45 minutes, escorted by a camp official.

The number of asylum seekers is more than six times the camp’s capacity. It was built for 650. The lucky ones are crammed inside two-room containers sharing a bathroom. More than half of the camp’s population lives in tents and makeshift shelters.

An asylum seeker from Cameroon spoke on what they were experiencing at the camp.

“We are suffering. We’ve seen the war. We’ve seen the insecurity. We are searching for refuge here. We’ve seen the war and we find it again here.”

Only a few toilets are available, and they are all filthy and broken. The camp is so overcrowded that tents have taken up every inch of space available. And so it keeps growing outside…in what asylum seekers call “the jungle.”

People here have to fend for themselves. It’s been raining for days and many tents are unlivable.

“I’m doing this work to find a place where I should live today because there’s no place here to live,” said an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone. “This life we live here is not good. Look at this tent! This tent is not good.”

The tents spread all the way up on the mountain. Temperatures at night fall below 10 degrees Celsius. The police don’t allow the asylum seekers to light fires. For many the only way to get warm.

The tent city stretches way below the forest. There are no toilets or running water. Here it’s mostly Arabs, Afghans and families. They live among diseases, piles of garbage and rotting food that no one collects.

Many of the children are sick. There’s one doctor at the camp and too many asylum seekers with medical problems.

“The children got sick in the first three days. You take them to the doctor and there they don’t accept to see you,” said Enquar El Awaidi, an aslylum seeker from Iraq. “And these are small children, they cannot endure this. We, the adults can.”

Camp authorities are beginning to move the vulnerable and the sick to the mainland and process asylum applications faster. They say that’s all they can do now.

Alexandros Arvanitidis, Deputy Director of the camp, said there is only so much his staff can do.

“The capacity of the center is limited. We cannot bring new tents or new containers outside the premises of the camp. It’s not our field to do that. We’re examining currently for a new space in order to make a new camp.”

The new camp will be bigger, with more staff. Over 4,000 asylum seekers arrived on Samos since September — more than on any other Greek island. And despite the sharp reduction in daily crossings, what’s happening in Samos remains a massive crisis, although a rather forgotten one.