So Why is No-One Talking About Samos?
The island of Samos, in the media spotlight for much of 2016 and the first few months of 2017, appears to have dropped off the radar.
A recent visit by a volunteer from the RefuComm team reveals that conditions on Samos are as bad if not worse than the condition on Chios, despite the latter featuring far more prominently in media coverage. Our volunteer found asylum seekers in an extremely disturbed and vulnerable condition, with limited access to basic services and lacking any kind of legal aid and in need of psychological help.
Samos received over 500 new arrivals this month, pushing the Hotspot’s population t0 around 2,000 for a facility designed for 850 people. The figures vary depending on the organisation reporting them. According to the UNHCR snapshot dated 10–16 August 2017, the population on Samos was 1,785.
Since 16 August there have been over one hundred new arrivals. With no space inside the ‘Hotspot’ to accommodate new arrivals, men, women and children are forced to sleep in make-shift tents in the forest outside the camp.
The combined effect of a large influx of new arrivals and the departure of organisations responsible for the protection and shelter of refugees such as Praksis and Save the Children, is severe. The situation is made worse by the absence of co-ordination between key organisations pursuing their respective mandates on Samos. There here have been reports from recognised refugees in Samos of food tokens being withdrawn and false promises made about better accommodation on the mainland in an attempt to get refugees off the Island.
Unaccompanied minors have reported that organisations operating in the Hotspot have been encouraged to declare that they are over 18 years old in attempt to move controversial protection cases requiring attention away from the island. There are frequent reports of the police arbitrarily detaining asylum seekers and migrants, and coercing them into signing voluntary deportation agreements, either to Turkey or to their country of origin.
After the controversial EU-Turkey deal, those arriving on the Greek islands must undergo an admissibility interview conducted by EASO (European Asylum Support Office) to determine whether Greece or Turkey or another country is responsible for examining the claim. As such, the key focus of the interview is to examine the reasons why the asylum seeker did not apply for asylum in Turkey, as opposed to examining the reasons they fled their country of origin. The situation on Samos mirrors what we discovered during our recent research on Chios, in that asylum seekers on Samos report that there are currently no organisations on the island that provide information about their legal rights or island asylum processes, resulting in asylum seekers having to blindly navigate their way through politically charged asylum processes which will have a huge impact on their future. *
The situation is made worse by the absence of co-ordination meetings between key organisations pursuing their respective mandates in relation to shelter, WASH, asylum processing, protection and medical services. In response to the state of emergency unfolding in Samos, there here have been reports of the police and UNHCR demanding those with open asylum cards to leave the island immediately. On 22 August 2017 it was reported by refugees inside the camp that police searched the camp and arrested around 30 people who have received second rejections. They now detained in Vathi police station awaiting deportation. No information is available to ascertain if these individuals are in possession of final rejection decision concerning their asylum claim.
Samos is just two and a half hours from Chios by ferry. It is a small island with only one camp that resembles a detention centre, perched on a step mountainside behind the town of Samos and surrounded by barbed wire.
Among the swelling population on Samos, there are hundreds of unaccompanied minors and around 90 pregnant women living in abysmal conditions. Some are sleeping outside because there is no room in the official camp. It has been reported today that a boat heading to Samos was diverted to Chios in an effort to prevent more overcrowding. Conditions are unacceptable.
Our research into recent media reports has revealed nothing to indicate the deterioration of the situation on Samos. Media reports for Samos largely ceased in April 2017. Previous reports up until May 2017 indicate 12 suicide attempts and 6 instances of self-harm in the Hotspot in January 2017 alone. Earlier this year there were numerous reports of police violence and brutality against asylum seekers on Samos, resulting in a formal investigation of police conduct initiated by the Greek Ombudsman.
In April 2017 Dr. William Gorman, a clinical psychologist at the Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago, who worked on the Island in March said: “The most common reactions of refugees I have witnessed on Samos include post-traumatic stress disorder with acute and pervasive anxiety symptoms and major depression, with grief and loss, guilt and remorse, helplessness, and hopelessness, at times accompanied by thoughts of suicide.”
“Some people are cutting their veins here, taking many tablets,” he says. “I know someone that took around 40 tablets. He’s lucky he didn’t die, but others have. People are literally tearing out their hair.”
The media silence about what is happening on Samos is a cause for concern. As NGOs withdraw from the Hotspots, human rights violations and mistreatment of new arrivals will only get worse. What is more, with the absence of media attention and human rights reporting, these violations will simply be swept under the carpet, hidden from the wider public.
*The RefuComm team and local solidarity groups have organised for the delivery and distribution of 200 micro SD cards, loaded with information films and documents to Samos in the next week. The SD cards include our animation which will be particularly useful for unaccompanied minors to help them to make it less easy for their applications to be rejected.
See the campaign for Samos here
We are collecting donations for SD cards for Samos now. Lots of unaccompanied minors need information. Gift it.
Thank you for your help. Let’s keep helping people to help themselves and stand up and say NO to human beings living in these conditions.