Report from the Greek Islands: Rhodes, Kos, Leros, Samos, Chios and Lesvos
Just over a year ago, as the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, I left Lesvos. For the last two weeks I have travelled the islands with two people from the legal and info groups in Athens.
We found many of the camps and hotspots had common problems;
Inadequate access to legal advice and lawyers leading to rejections of people with strong cases for asylum, increased rejections of asylum cases based on the EU-Turkey deal and the premise that Turkey is a safe country, discrimination against particular nationalities, insufficient medical and dental care, difficulties in accessing treatment in local hospitals, a reluctance to transfer people to the mainland if they have more serious medical issues, families separated within Greece but unable to reunite due to travel restrictions placed upon them and a lack of nutritious food, limited access to water.
In Samos hotspot, Souda Camp on Chios and Moria Camp on Lesvos some people are still living in tents.
Hotspots are all built to a similar spec, 7 foot metal fencing topped with razor wire. Concrete and tightly packed ISO boxes. Personal privacy is impossible. Loudspeakers are positioned everywhere and frequently used. A Greek solidarity worker described these sites as ‘designed to break people’.
In all camps and hotspots there is a feeling of unease and tension. Not only from the people forced to live there, but also from the workers, as many NGOs are being asked to leave. As a young Syrian guy said when told that Save the Children and Praxis were leaving Vial Camp on Chios, ‘Who will look after the people?’
On Kos, in an olive grove outside the hotspot, after we had facilitated an impromptu workshop on legal rights, a young man from Kashmir came up holding the hand of his friend. The man in his care could not make eye contact, was unable to follow conversations and seemed to be nonverbal. We asked how someone so mentally unwell had managed the journey to Greece. ‘He was well when he got here,’ they said. His mental breakdown had occurred when he received his asylum rejection.
On Rhodes the official camp is in an abandonned slaughter house, close to the port. Residents sleep in small partitioned spaces constructed from playwood and blankets. The nearby UNHCR hotel is due to close in less than two months to make way for tourists. The hotel residents greatest concern is that they will be returned to the slaughter house.
In Vial on Chios we were there just before a young Syrian man set himself on fire after receiving a rejection. We returned to the camp later to help with the delivery of some food. On the way back to town our Syrian friend, and a long term volunteer, asked for the price of fuel. ‘I think it is what I should do if I get rejected,’ he had said earlier. It is the last form of protest he feels he has. We tried to convince him that the best way of showing his life has worth was to continue living it.
When I finally arrived back to Moria hotspot on Lesvos I was greeted by three young guys from Ghana debating their futures. Two people they knew had just been taken to the police station to be deported back to Turkey. Another man they knew had recently died. ‘Some of us wanted to go and perform his burial rites,’ one of them said, ‘but they wouldn’t let us. Where will his spirit go?’
The only moments of hope on this journey have been meeting people involved in grass-root projects where refugee, local and international communities have come together to create alternative solutions, and the strength of the people who continue to endure in this situation.
(By Emma Musty, Khora Community Center team)