The new Refugee Camp on Samos officially opened on the 18th of September 2021. Greek authorities and several high-ranking politicians such as Notis Mitarakis, Greek Minister of Migration & Asylum and Beate Gminder, Head of the “Task Force Migration Management” for the European Commission ‘inaugurated’ the new Closed Controlled Access Center of Samos. All camp residents still remaining on Samos were transferred from the old camp in Vathy to the new camp, 8 km away from Vathy, between the 20th and 22nd of September 2021.
Greek authorities and the European Commission present this new camp as a safe solution to the horrible living conditions that existed in the Vathy camp, but in fact the new prison-like conditions of the newly opened camp are used as a deterrent for future flows of migrants into the Greek hotspot islands. The camp on Samos is the first of in total five planned Closed Controlled Access Centers still to be built on the islands Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Leros.
The Refugee Camp on Samos in the capital city Vathy was a former military base, built to hold 650 residents living in temporary container units. Samos was designated a refugee ‘hotspot’ in 2016 amid mass arrivals of migrants and refugees, and the camp population quickly exceeded its projected capacity of 650. At its peak around 9.000 people were living in and around the camp. Beyond the official parameters of refugee housing, asylum seekers with no available alternatives developed a complex of ramshackle tents and huts. This area became known as “the jungle”, owing to the terrible living conditions. The “jungle” was overcrowded and lacked electricity, clean water, weather-proof accommodations, access to healthcare and sufficient sanitary facilities with waste management.
These living conditions were incompatible with the rights that European states are bound to guarantee for everyone within their jurisdiction. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment”. The living conditions in the old Refugee Camp in Vathy were completely devoid of dignity and humane treatment.
The European Union provided a funding of €250 millions for the construction of five new high-surveillance, closed and controlled Refugee Camps on the hotspot islands Samos, Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Leros.
On Samos this camp is located in the isolated area of Zervou on top of a mountain, 8 kilometres from Vathy. In summer time the camp is exposed to sunshine without natural shade from trees and in winter time the rainwater accumulates between the containers without a proper drainage system.
To enter the camp, all residents need to register with their fingerprints and get scanned with metal detectors and X-ray machines. In addition the camp ‘security’ standard is provided with several rows of military barbed wire fences, video and drone surveillance which is controlled from Athens, watchtowers and a strong police and military presence all around.
Greek authorities affirm their argument that the new camp will be an improvement on living conditions for all camp residents, but to move from a tent in a container won’t be the solution for all the problems in the camp. Many residents are facing mental health problems caused by marginalisation and dehumanising and neglecting treatment. People who are already on Samos for several years are losing their hope. With the relocation of the camp in an isolated area and prison-like facilities, people are denied their human rights of free movement and humane treatment.
Credit: Romy van Baarsen
Credit: Romy van Baarsen