Hope and Fear: Samos Island September 2020


Roger came by the house yesterday evening. In his early 20s Roger is from Gaza. He’s full of energy and ideas and has been like this since he arrived in Samos over a year ago. His days are full of activity mainly with the children in the camp. There he and his friends have what might be called a mass following of young children! They play, sing, draw, party and talk together. In these ways the children learnt about the importance of washing hands and other steps they could take to keep Covid out of their lives. And in all these activities it is the sounds of joy and laughter which dominate.

Roger is Palestinian, and as with most Palestinians humour is a major feature of their survival under (Israeli) occupation. It is no accident that Liverpool, the poorest city in England is also famous for its humour. As with the refugees on Samos humour has long been one of the ways in which the poorest of that city have countered their marginalisation and neglect and asserted their enduring humanity. Humour is a way underdogs have always used to fight back. I would hazard a guess that we could make a very long list of similar places. Authority in whatever form is not good at humour. It cannot control the jokes we make or manage the humour we see in the world around us. It gives us power. Maybe this was what Emma Goldman was getting at when she “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”

In Gaza as in Liverpool and certainly on Samos island humour is in an endless battle with sadness. It is an ongoing daily reality that ebbs and flows. Roger and his friends in the camp know this and see their mission as creating happiness to keep sadness at bay. The struggle between tears and laughter is a central feature of daily refugee life on Samos as it is for many communities denied and deprived of the material and psychological essentials necessary for living.

As Roger told us the rewards of being engaged in the camp can be awesome. He was very excited by the range of talents and interests he keeps discovering – athletes, artists, tattooists, tailors and dressmakers, builders, house painters, teachers, nurses, cooks of all kinds, gardeners, farmers, actors, singers, musicians, dancers and more. So many talents, he said, but never used, mobilised or even recognised by the authorities. So no support. This is where Roger and his friends seek to focus their energies looking to nourish and encourage talent which can then be shared and enjoyed by others.

But that has always been the case on Samos. Without exception, the best aspects of refugee life on Samos have been created by the refugees themselves. The Open Doors shop is probably now the outstanding example. That is not to ignore the contributions of some of the NGOs here or the flow of largely young north European volunteers who still come Samos with their big hearts. But always they are a mixed blessing. We are not alone in wondering why they come here when all of them are from countries which have significant issues with poverty and suffering. “Why don’t they dig where they stand” is a common question. “Why do they take jobs which we can do? Why do they assume that a young white European can work with vulnerable and traumatised children with no preparation or support?” There is a terrible lack of appreciation of the talents and skills of the refugees here, who are too often simply dismissed and ignored as worthless and useless. The only exceptions being those they need to act as translators.

This is the back cloth against which refugees in the camp acquired sewing machines to make decent masks. Now on Samos it is mainly the refugees who are masked up, not the locals. (How things have changed since the only masks seen here before, and long before Covid, were worn by the police and border guards as they dealt with new arrivals!)

Making Masks

The upside of this neglect is that the people in the camp whilst lacking so many necessary resources for daily life are left to their own devices. Yella the creative west African artist is left alone to run his art classes in a small square in the centre of Vathi; the same is true for the young Saudi doctor who manages with friends the clinic they have created in the jungle and so it goes from communal kitchens to football competitions. But it could be so much more with a different mind set. So much of what is needed by the refugees – food, safe living places, work that sustains, – are also needed by many of the locals. More so now in the midst of the Covid pandemic that has virtually wiped out tourism on the island this year. Many here do not know how they will survive the winter months now that they have no income from their summer tourist jobs.

Because so many refugees are now confined on Samos for months even years and are also concentrated in Vathi we have seen a slow but deepening of contacts between locals and refugees. There are growing numbers on both sides of this divided population who are recognising that they have much in common and need to work together. The creation of Just Action which provides food aid to both locals and refugees is probably the clearest example of this shifting dynamic. Roger and his friends, as well as those working in Open Doors and Just Action are amongst those who are now talking and thinking about how they can join together and help create new bonds of solidarity between the refugees and the locals. Albeit for differing reasons in part, both groups know that they have been abandoned; they get nothing but the barest minimum from the state and they expect nothing. Growing numbers are beginning to realise that together they can do better.

We wait to see what follows if the Athens government actually does achieve its objective of moving all the refugees to the new closed camp on a remote hill top 12 km from Vathi by the end of this year. There are still many local people in Vathy who would like to see the refugees moved out of their city. Years of hostility to the refugees, driven by the Orthodox Church and successive governments with the connivance of much of the mainstream media have left a deep scar which drives this hope that the refugees will be removed from their midst. As I am writing these words, it has been announced that 2 African refugees in the camp have been tested positive for Covid. There are no more details as yet. If true this is a devastating development in that the only 2 cases of the virus so far on Samos were amongst local people who had been visiting in Athens. As everyone knows the camp is a ticking bomb when it comes to health. And the inevitable tighter lock down of the camp which will now be implemented will have dire consequences for the refugees. And, not the least it will give added impetus to the demands to get the refugees out of town.

But what many who are leading this demand, such as the mayor of Vathi seem to ignore is the changing and changed character of the city. Not all the refugees live in the camp. Over recent years there are many hundreds of families and groups renting homes and some neighbourhoods in Vathi are dominated by ‘refugee’ households. I use ‘ ‘ because there are a growing number of those gaining asylum in Greece who are deciding that Samos island is preferable to Athens or Thessaloniki as a place to live and be safe (especially with respect to the children). In other words they are no longer refugees in the formal sense. They will not go to the new camp. They will remain in Vathi and try to make their lives there, at least for some years.

And as is often the case with migrations into new places, we can see an energy and determination to make a life which is in contrast to the islanders who seem more locked into an ‘endure’ mode. (And the newcomers are invariably much younger than the locals). A clear example of this has been in the creation of a new coffee bar in Vathi this summer by a group of young men from Gaza who have their asylum.

Yella at work in the new coffee shop

The complete renovation of the shop revealed the range of talents amongst the refugees. Brilliant plastering and decoration, wonderful lighting and all done by themselves. It faces many challenges but it is thriving. Samos town is changing and as more people who came as refugees stay here this will continue.

(Just an aside increasing numbers of the island’s new residents are confronting the police who daily harass the refugees back into the camp as evening falls. The police don’t discriminate so end up bullying those who have both papers and homes in the town and are under no lock down provisions. Those with children are furious that their children are frightened by shouting police demanding that they leave the beach and get to the camp. The police are now facing a completely new experience on Samos of having to apologise to those they have previously abused with impunity.)

So in the darkness here we do see some light and we do hear laughter. But the dark cloud of Covid is ever present revealing more starkly the as yet unexploded health bomb that is the camp in Vathi. Many on Samos have been shaken by the recent fire in Moria. As the MSF director there observed the bomb of Moria. has exploded. These are tense times on Samos and not helped by the latest hard lock down following the Covid cases recently identified in the camp. There are more than a few refugees who do not believe that Covid has come into the camp especially as there have been hardly any new arrivals for over 6 months now. They believe that it is a lie to justify locking them in the camp. Refugees don’t trust the authorities.

As I was writing last night, I had a call not only about the Covid cases in the camp but about a wild fire raging on the hills of Vathi right above the camp. Thankfully strong winds were blowing the fire away from the camp. It is outrageous that neither Moria nor Samos camps have any firefighting capacity or protection. Fire has always been the outstanding threat for years in these camps.

Soon summer will be ending and the rains will come. As every winter the authorities will wring their hands as the bad weather batters at the shelters and tents. Survival will rest as always in the hands of the refugees. And the utterly intolerable situation of thousands of human beings imprisoned on the frontier islands of Greece will continue.

MSF: A Moment of Reckoning ?


My opinions about MSF are largely based on seeing them in action on Samos. Like many on the island we had a positive attitude given what  we knew of their work war zones. Overall after 5 years of their (intermittent) presence opinions are now mixed seeing MSF as both good in part and bad in others. For example, senior MSF managers here during one period – all of them French – had no clue that their lavish life styles enjoyed with each other caused great offence on an island which was suffering from catastrophic poverty. Their separation from the local community was seen as a statement of their superiority. This was true for nearly all the people and agencies which came to Samos after 2015. With MSF it was a bit more of a surprise to see such overt colonial behaviour when it proclaims values which decry all forms of oppression and discrimination.

I have not given MSF much thought recently but this changed last week after reading the following;

“The medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières is institutionally racist and reinforces colonialism and white supremacy in its humanitarian work, according to an internal statement signed by 1,000 current and former members of staff. “

This is the opening sentence to the Guardian’s article on MSF which was published on Friday July 10th 2020.

As one former MSF aid worker said: “This moment of reckoning is massively overdue.” And not just for MSF but for all NGOs active in humanitarian work. This is far more than a matter for MSF.

The open letter signed by 1000 current and former MSF staff members ought to be explosive. These staff members provide a diagnosis that goes far deeper than the obvious surface problems to much deeper ailments in its very structure. Difficult truths are revealed by staff members across the organisation; top to bottom. As Avril Benoit, executive director of MSF USA noted, “when you first encounter this, you say “That’s not me, I’m a humanitarian, we’re all such good people. But if you look at a picture of those at the highest executive levels, there is your answer. The good people we may be and the policies we’ve brought in are not enough” (Guardian 10 July)

Revealing the precise details of the illness demands a wide-ranging rigorous analysis. It is to its credit that the initial responses within MSF to the open letter suggests that it has embraced the problem and is prepared to range deeply to bring about changes to improve. But this is no easy task in an organisation such as MSF which believes itself to be a humanitarian world leader in its area and was recognised as such with a Nobel peace prize in 1999. As we witnessed on Samos island local people who were lucky enough to be employed by MSF were proud to be part of such a well respected NGO. But as the 1000 signatories illustrate, caring for an organisation like MSF also means being prepared to be ruthless in your criticisms; where no area is left untouched and where taken for granted positions are re-examined and changed as needed. These staff members behind the letter believe in MSF. They believe it can be so much better.

Neither should we ignore the many ethical and excellent workers employed in the NGO sector generally. These organisations are not driven by profit and have a commitment to service and often justice. So we must ask how is it such seemingly benign organisations staffed by usually decent people end up like MSF and so many others? Those like Benoit need to explore how seemingly good people end up doing bad things. So no searching for ‘bad apples’. The malaise of MSF is systemic. As it is across the entire social welfare field.

Malignant Organisations

Many changes and investigations are needed. I hope it will include a rigorous challenge to bureaucratic and hierarchical forms of organisation. I believe that many of the problems which blight MSF and the NGO humanitarian sector more generally can be traced back to a specific hierarchical type which feeds on prevailing inequalities and becomes embedded in a myriad of distorting ways. Such an organisational form in various guises is now deeply embedded in the world. It is as seen as the norm and expected. It is rarely questioned today although in its creation and implementation it was influenced by the need to control and manage activity in the interests of prevailing power. Yet as MSF is now finding it has brought about devastating consequences. Hierarchies which manage soon accrue privilege and power; flows of information concerning policy and practice inevitably flow down to front line workers who are increasingly far away from the decision makers and challenges from the base are ruled out. Is this why on Samos at least the MSF contracts for local workers run to pages and pages containing what can only be described as gagging clauses ?

Some of these malign influences are all too obvious such as MSF’s ‘discriminatory and unfair pay structure’ in which local workers are paid massively below those of their managers. But equally negative are the less obvious ways in which these organisational forms have created a belief that the expertise required to deliver and manage their activities is to be found almost exclusively amongst a narrow group of socially and educationally privileged people. Simply requiring formal qualifications for a job immediately excludes the majority of the population and reinforces as it reflects privilege. Unquestioned, these taken for granted processes provide a fertile environment in which enduring discriminations from class to race to gender and beyond, flourish as opportunities and rewards are handed out.

Credentialed and certificated the professionals are also encouraged to believe themselves superior and entitled. As one MSF staff member observed such a mind set sees no problem in placing fresh graduates as supervisors of local staff with 10 or 20 years experience. What follows from regulations which only acknowledge so called formal qualifications is dire because it ignores valuable and needed resources as well as undermining and insulting other forms of knowledge and skill acquisition. Hardly surprising then that within MSF “trying to support a national staff [member] as an international staff [member] is the most tedious, unjust and gut-wrenchingly frustrating process I have ever endured” (Guardian July 10). Add to this mix the specific cultural influences that shape the countries which fill the top positions the results can be very toxic. As one MSF staffer noted there “was an almost suffocating white saviour mentality”. And another, “there was a constant feeling that the international staff need the [locals] to get on with things, otherwise ‘we’ are better than ‘them’. It was exhausting”.

All Knowledge Matters

And here on Samos it has also been exhausting seeing virtually every intervention -apart from the Open Kitchens in 2016 – fail to embrace and involve both refugees and local people so cutting themselves off from important resources of knowledge and effort. The consequences of this failure are significant and led to a separation between islanders and refugees that should never have occurred. Locals were commonly seen as well meaning amateurs who had to stand aside as the credentialed professions took over. And refugees, well they were refugees; objects of their intervention and certainly not respected partners. Either way, both groups were sidelined. This is but one example of failing to recognise and respect the depths of knowledge and skills which abound amongst us. By ignoring ‘public’ knowledge and by seeing education as restricted only to schools and colleges these organisations fail to embrace vital forms of understanding and skills which are created in and by social and collective experiences. Significantly, skills and knowledge from these roots are more likely to be seen as a social good to be shared with all. This stands in stark contrast to the individualised and privatised expertise common to the ‘professions’.

The consequences are profound, especially for all interventions concerned with the welfare of the people for it creates a range of barriers between the ‘helpers’ and the ‘helped’ all of which distort and lead to poor and ineffective services. This is not to reject expertise but rather to argue for a much broader and inclusive recognition of expertise and above all, to see all expertise as something to be shared and offered with humility. Expertise should never justify superiority. The professional expertise most of us now experience is intrinsically dis-respectful and often undermines those they seek to ‘help’. I recall vividly the outrage of a single mother with 3 adolescent children confronted with a psychologist’s report which blamed her for her eldest boy’s shoplifting. “Not one word” she said about how brilliantly they had survived enduring poverty with its crap housing and schools. “And now, one mistake and it’s all my fault.” And the mum’s account rooted in her family’s circumstances and experiences was given no credence; not even asked for.

This is an all too common experience across a wide range of welfare and social policies and practices. It comes with top down hierarchical organisations. Not only does it ignore vast resources of knowledge and skill it suffocates alternative forms of organisation which are rooted in solidarity and mutual action. Existing outside the paradigm of top down organisations these get little attention yet there are tens of thousands of grass roots initiatives globally which meet some of the needs of humanity more effectively than that provided ‘from above’. The evidence of the benefits of interventions based on solidarity is abundant if we care to look.

I am delighted by the actions of the 1,000 former and current MSF staff. The context of the corona virus pandemic and the equally global Black Lives Matter actions have played their part in bringing about the open letter. I believe their initiative has provided us with an important chance to open up a fundamental interrogation of the organisational forms and attendant cultures which have been taken for granted as the only way to do things. As the MSF staff show, this approach fails miserably.

I hope that we don’t fail to realise the opportunities this open letter provides to struggle for the changes needed.

Just Action: Green Shoots on Samos

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Vasilis and Lene who have created Just Action, a new NGO on Samos. In the few months of its existence Just Action has more than lived up to its name distributing thousands of food parcels to both refugees and locals across the island and cleaning the jungle which is the home to thousands of refugees.


Food parcels ready to go!


Below is what they say about themselves:

JUST ACTION for refugees and locals on Samos

For us action is everything

We formed Just Action during the COVID19 lock down and days of camp fires. We couldn’t sit back and watch. It’s time for action.

In Just Action, we’re dedicated to changing the approach. We’re here to create a more sustainable impact for both refugees and locals. We want more collaboration, engagement and understanding. We’re deeply rooted in local knowledge, with one of us even being born and raised on Samos. We believe that you get further if you understand things from the perspective of the local communities.

That is also why we decided from the very beginning that we stand with everyone. Whether they live across the street, in the refugee camp or on the other side of the island. It’s important for us to help wherever it’s needed and to act from an understanding of how connected the struggles of the different communities are. While most of our project focus are on the refugee camp, we acknowledge that many locals are struggling as well.

The situation is getting more and more challenging

As a result of the refugee crisis, the island of Samos faces several challenges. The camp itself is way over capacity and the conditions are inhumane. Around 6400 people now live in the camp and the surrounding jungle. The majority of them are without real shelter, running water, electricity and sanitation facilities. The food provided in the camp is of questionable quality and requires hours of waiting in the packed food line every day. Garbage is everywhere and especially the two huge rivers of trash that are going through the camp are full, attracting a large number of rats and creating a huge health risk.

As we see it, some of the biggest problems are the lack of dignity in terms of quality food, clean living areas and suitable options for keeping good hygiene. On top of this, the consequences of the refugee crisis and COVID19 are also affecting the local community a lot. The absent tourism this year puts many families to the test in a society where many are already struggling to make ends meet.

Here’s what we’re doing about it

The last few months, we have been supporting the most vulnerable with food. We packed and distributed more than 4000 bags of food to the camp residents, while we supported local families through the social market, social workers and local initiatives. We want to continue this vital support to both communities. Our main goal is to open a free market where people can come and shop according to their needs of food and hygiene items. Those visiting us will be able to choose themselves directly from the shelves. We believe this creates room for a more dignified way of receiving support. By working closely with local producers and helping them developing their business, we also aim to boost the local economy in order to create a bigger impact.

Currently, we’re also running a waste management project in the jungle part of the camp. Three times a week our team of volunteers are collecting trash and educating the camp residents on the issue. Each week we remove around 500 big trash bags out of the camp. In collaboration with partner organisations on the ground, we’re planning a huge deep cleaning to substantially reduce the levels of trash inside the camp while continuing our weekly effort to ensure that the problem is kept under control.

We realised that most of the trash that lies around is plastic bottles. Therefore, we are about to start a plastic recycling project where we provide frozen water in exchange for collected plastic bottles. We’re in contact with different companies who will be in the recycling end of things so the plastic can be recycled into new useful things.

At the moment these projects are our core focus. However, we know that there is much more do here and we continue to be open for ways to help the different communities on the island. As more emergencies are likely to occur, we also need to be ready to act and support immediately.

You can help us to continue to act fast

With the COVID19 crisis, the communities on the island are struggling more and more. Support to the refugees has been decreasing vastly as a result of restrictions, while support to vulnerable local families strongly affected by the lack of tourism is very limited too. We want to make sure that none of them feels alone. But we cannot do this without your help.

[You can donate to Just Action through this link: https://chuffed.org/project/justaction ]


Yala painting the door!


The Importance of Local

Vasilis has lived all his life on Samos, apart from some years gaining his degrees in the UK. He has lived and personally experienced the devastating impact of the ongoing recession on the people of Samos. It has brought over the past 12 years, unemployment (and lower wages for those ‘lucky’ enough to get a job) with deep and widespread poverty and all the anxieties and unhappiness that it brings. Survival for many on Samos relies on the food and animals kept and grown on their gardens (which often brings joy because it is delicious food !).

All of this is compounded by the continuous erosion of public services and benefits. It is little wonder that so many young people who could, have left Samos and Greece. This is Samos today. This is the context in which we live. Just Action believes that this context must inform and influence the interventions in managing/helping the refugee population here. Failure to do so will, they believe, further deepen divisions between the locals and the refugees and there will be no possibility in breaking the endless cycle of cruelties that impact on both locals and refugees alike. They share a massive common ground through their poverty, but to have any influence on bringing about a better world for themselves it must get rid of the forces which divide them.

Regrettably what we have witnessed here is that the exclusive focus on refugees with no acknowledgement of the similar plight of so many islanders has fueled deep resentments both towards the refugees and the NGOs themselves. Crazy stories abound about high allowances being given to the refugees ( nothing like the actual figures of 100 – 150 euros a month) and endless other benefits from food to clothes and health care. All sadly not true. But what they can see in Samos town are many places run by NGOs exclusively for refugees. These include schools, cafes, social centres and medical clinics. There are few equivalent services for locals. Everyone here knows well that vast sums of money are spent ‘on refugees’ on Samos just as they know that they get absolutely nothing despite their hardships.

Unfortunately the resentments and divisions which tend to follow from the exclusive focus on refugees by so many NGOs were further deepened when the NGOs took over the efforts of the locals who until then were caring for the huge waves of refugees who came here in 2015. Local groups (mainly women) emerged across the island cooking meals and collecting clothes and shoes so desperately needed. A wide range of relationships between the locals and the refugees developed; an almost instinctive response of solidarity between two groups who shared deep poverty and daily struggles to survive.

But much of this disappeared when the NGOs arrived. There was no sustained attempt to nourish these emerging connections. They simply took over. They thought they were doing the locals a favour by taking over. It was further compounded by modes of organisation which privileged their professionals as the experts who knew best. Bound in this framework it was inevitable that the vast majority of NGO interventions were top down. Sadly this model is all too common in state welfare regimes which have squashed and squeezed out the vast network of mutual help systems that had developed amongst the poor. These organisations and networks because they were based on solidarity and compassion – qualities which have no central place in driving state welfare were both popular and effective and so much better than what the state came to provide. On Samos we sadly witnessed countless points of contact between the islanders and the refugees disappear at great speed following the arrival of the NGOs. And with it a network of grass roots initiatives which were connecting refugees with locals on a shared experience of poverty and neglect. Such forms of solidarity do not allow, unless for specific reasons, for the kinds of exclusive and segregating interventions which leave out so many struggling with the same problems. As we have seen it results in damage to them all.

In hindsight the refugee activists on Samos might have pushed harder for involvement in the local management of the NGOs. Instead what we have now is that the majority of locals who are involved with the NGOs are in junior and relatively low paid jobs in these organisations with little or no influence on policies and priorities.

The creation of Just Action is an attempt to set out a new direction that seeks to bring the locals and refugees together and to provide opportunities for new relationships of solidarity to form and flourish. It is no accident that it should emerge at the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Humanity now confronts a virus which does not carve up the world’s people into categories which reflect their supposed value in a world which has grotesquely enriched a few at the expense of the majority; a world which epitomises the stark warning of Adam Smith that without regulation the rich and the powerful would take all for themselves leaving only crumbs for the rest. The virus however behaves differently and sweeps through human populations caring not a jot for your status, wealth, poverty, gender, race, disability, age, sexuality, place of birth. It confronts humanity as a whole, whether or not you have papers and passports: borders, barbed wire fences, walled enclosed housing and sophisticated security systems are as of nothing to a virulent virus. As with all toxic viruses, the weakest and the vulnerable suffer most but even so it is now self evident that no one is safe unless everyone is safe.

On Samos, the threat of the pandemic confronts us all. The virus has yet to reach the island. But we all know should it come we will face danger. The most obvious is that the virus could devastate the refugees. But they are not alone in their vulnerability. The island not only has an ageing population- elderly people are the majority in many of the villages here – but a population which has been weakened physically and psychologically by years of poverty. Tourism which is a major element of the island’s economy is non existent at the moment. Bars and restaurants are empty. There is a profound anxiety about how many can survive the winter when they have no income in the summer. And for all the people on the island there is an acute awareness that the medical resources here would be rapidly overwhelmed should the virus take hold. The pandemic is forcing us to recognise fundamental challenges which affect us all and to look for new ways which bring us together. Many are beginning to realise the truth of the old adage ‘United, we stand a chance: Divided we will suffer’.

Such an awareness is also clear in the global mobilisations against racism and state violence. The dying words of George Floyd “I can’t breathe” are echoing across the world, even in Samos because they capture the experience of so many irrespective of race. Where all this will lead to who knows, but it is clear that the anger and frustrations of many is exploding in various ways. And whether it connects to the pandemic or to state violence it is encouraging people to recognise their inter-connectedness and need for solidarity.

Established power has always feared the capacities of the many to make a better and fairer world which is why so much effort is made to divide us and humiliate us. But through the pandemic and now with the Black Lives Matter movement we are seeing countless and inspiring mobilisations of people helping and supporting one another. And so much of what they do is so better than anything coming from the state, because it is driven by love and compassion.


Just Action comes from that tradition of mutual support:

we decided from the very beginning that we stand with everyone. Whether they live across the street, in the refugee camp or on the other side of the island. It’s important for us to help wherever it’s needed and to act from an understanding of how connected the struggles of the different communities are. While most of our project focus are on the refugee camp, we acknowledge that many locals are struggling as well.”

Without standing together the future looks bleak here. To give just one example. There is still every intent by the state to close the camp in Samos town and to move it to a closed camp on a remote hillside away from any village or town. Should this be attempted one fears for the consequences. Only sufficient solidarity between the locals and refugees will avert a disaster.

Vasilis and Lene told me that they chose the name Just Action partly due to their frustrations of being involved in NGO meetings which often led nowhere. The priorities for action are self-evident and basic especially concerning hygiene and food. But at the point of action there is a major divergence between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches. The former are mired in endless bureaucracy as they seek to manage the action whereas bottom up organisations draw on a huge reservoir of energy and talent where people are ready to work shoulder to shoulder to achieve their objectives. This was brilliantly illustrated by Just Action’s amazing clean up job following the fire which destroyed over 500 homes earlier this year. They were able to bring together both refugees and locals who together cleaned the area in hours.


Just Action Cleaning



Just Action in the Jungle

Of course Just Action needs money to survive and flourish. But they also value the talents and skills of the people around them, both locals on the island and the refugees in the camp. They have access and contact with a priceless resource which is all to often ignored. But its transformational potential is still injured by years of division where the poor have been pushed and persuaded to fight one another for the crumbs on the floor and where relations are soured by jealousies and resentments. This is what makes Just Action and thousands of similar initiatives across the world so important for they embody a faith in the people who given a chance to realise their potential would love nothing more than to work for us all rather than a few. For us on Samos, Just Action is a small green shoot. But one that must be nourished as must all those which follow.

E mail Just Action : justactionsamos@gmail.com

Time to Change: Coronavirus and Refugees on Samos Island


The global coronavirus pandemic is affecting every aspect of human life on earth. The challenge is awesome in its scale and scope.

To date we have no cases of the virus on Samos. But still its impact on life here is huge with businesses and schools closed, the tourist industry completely stalled, and deeply engrained social activities such as drinking coffee and church going prohibited. All this is further compounded for as common with much of Greece, Samos has not come through the social and economic crisis that has crippled so many here for the past 12 years. It is only access to gardens and land on the island with islanders growing and producing food for themselves and their families and neighbours that has kept hunger at bay for many here. (Not all are so fortunate). The loss of any income, however small, is a disaster.

But even worse is in store should the virus come to Samos. People here know that their health care system is weak and that respecting the lock down and the other protocols is essential for their well-being. Many here are very proud by their response, and Greece to date has one of the lowest rates of infection and deaths from the virus in Europe.

This makes it all the more shocking to see how the authorities both here on Samos and in Athens are treating the refugees who continue to be detained in conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections, including COVID-19. These include situations such aovercrowded living and working conditions; physical and mental stress; and deprivation due to lack of housing, food and clean water” (WHO). Every single recommendation made by WHO (Europe) on March 25th concerning the treatment of refugees during the pandemic is ignored on Samos and is highlighted by the relocation of the 400 or so people who lost their homes to the recent fires in the jungle. Look at the photo!

Whilst much of the world is being told to keep a 2 metre distance, here we find some of the most vulnerable people on the island being expected to live like this! All of us on Samos now face a greater risk by this action.

What makes this action even more reprehensible is that it need not be like this. Why for example was the stadium not pressed into service with its space and toilets and showers. What about the empty hotels and army barracks?

One truth we all know is that coronavirus attacks people without any discrimination. We also know that it is more deadly for those who are vulnerable either through ill health or poverty. In the fight against the virus we are only as strong as our most vulnerable. We are so used to the official neglect of the poor and the vulnerable that it has come as a welcome surprise to see deeply unequal societies reach out to its most excluded which in the UK included offering accommodation to all homeless people and the distribution of a million food parcels. Portugal has gone further in extending its health care system to embrace every refugee even those without papers. A spokesman for Portugal’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Claudia Veloso, summed up the logic behind her government’s decision : “People should not be deprived of their rights to health and public service just because their application has not yet been processed. In these exceptional times, the rights of migrants must be guaranteed.” (Counterpunch 4 May 2020)

But this is not happening on Samos. The rights of the refugees are not guaranteed and this is a threat to us all. It is surely time that here at least we start to do things differently and better. Whether you like it or not we are all in this together. But by neglecting and even worsening the vulnerabilities of refugees here, the authorities are acting irresponsibly.

As we see across the world, the pandemic is compelling states to act in completely new ways. We must take similar brave actions. Throw out the old and cruel approaches and start afresh in a spirit of human togetherness. We know that we cannot expect much support from Athens. Last week the government broke its promise to remove from the frontier islands 2,500 refugees deemed to be at the greatest risk from the virus. If the situation here is to be improved it will depend on us in Samos. I believe that here on the island we have many of the human and physical resources to make massive improvements which will protect all of us. And this time we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the refugees who for weeks now have been doing what they can to protect themselves including holding classes for the children on hygiene, making masks and distributing food. Working together to fight the virus and to protect all the people of Samos could and would be inspirational! Imagine no longer being seen as the place where refugees suffer but as a beacon of humanity. We can do it. Divided we are in danger. Together we stand a chance.

Samos Refugees: We see a Darkness

In Greece, as elsewhere, the coronavirus epidemic now dominates daily life. Rarely a day passes without some new announcement. Most have a major impact as schools and universities, coffee bars, restaurants, shopping malls and non-essential shops are closed. Moreover with borders closing and flights from Italy and Spain banned, along with cruise ships, the immediate outlook for Greece’s major economic activity, tourism is grim. For a society where the majority of people are still struggling with a decade old economic and social crisis that has deepened their poverty these are devastating developments especially given its collapsing infrastructure and social protections. Currently there are thousands of workers who can no longer work and who don’t know whether they will have any income as a result.

For the refugees, coronavirus is a fused bomb. When, rather than if it blows it will be devastating. The appalling conditions in which refugees are held which blatantly contradict all the government’s instructions on hygiene and overcrowding make the camps and detention facilities exceptionally vulnerable to the virus. The police describe the island camps as “health bombs”. The police associations from Samos, Lesvos, Chios and the North and South Dodecanese are now demanding urgent action. The timing of their intervention is driven by the extremely cruel and unhealthy conditions for the 1,414 refugees who arrived on the islands after March 1st 2020. Following the Act passed on March 2 2020 all new arrivals are denied the right to apply for asylum. This is a major breach of international law, but more of that later. There is no registration or identification procedures for these new arrivals who are kept away from the pre March deadline refugees and detained, as the police noted in their letter to the government (14/3/2020);

Stacked like animals in temporary and inadequate infrastructure acting as ticking health bombs. On Samos there are 93 foreigners in a room of the Port Authority without a toilet or water supply.”

Last week 450 refugees who had arrived after March 1st were held on an army tank landing ship for 4 days on Lesbos before sailing to an undisclosed facility (prison) on the mainland to await deportation. Imagine, an army transporter with 450 passengers! “The children are not receiving sufficient food and clothing,” a Syrian refugee on board told Human Rights Watch:“We had only three toilets for 451 people until today, when they brought five portable toilets. There is no shower, no soap.” As HRW concluded, “Greece’s decision to detain more than 450 people on a naval vessel and refuse to allow them to lodge asylum claims flagrantly violates international and European law.” (https://news.yahoo.com/hrw-denounces-greece-over-migrants-held-warship-130647070.html)

The associations which represent the front line police who directly manage and control the refugees on the frontier islands speak of being abandoned and unprotected by Ministries and bureaucracies that seem to have no grasp of the situation on the islands. They are using their own money to buy masks and antiseptic liquids. They get nothing. But it is the anger which stands out in their letter. It suggests that the treatment of the 1,500 refugees who have arrived on the islands since the beginning of March reaches new depths of inhumanity and deepens their vulnerability to coronavirus. Hidden away, segregated from other refugees, prisoners with rights removed or suspended and no access to lawyers, means we can’t hear their voices. It is more than ironic that we now find some of the police speaking out and breaking the silence both on their own behalf but also for the refugees.“Your disinterest is criminal” they wrote to all the relevant ministers in Athens, “as are your actions which have allowed for such terrible living conditions for foreign nationals and where you expect us to work….There is no care for the police nor for the foreigners.” (Full report published in Samos Voice, 14/3/2020)

Meanwhile coronavirus might have momentarily pushed refugees off the front pages but there has been no halt in the government’s declared strategy of making their lives a misery. So we have Notis Mitarachi, the minister for migration and asylum, announcing on March 3rd that refugees who get asylum will receive no benefits after one month. Previously these benefits lasted for 6 months and sometimes longer. Now “accommodation and benefits for those granted asylum will be interrupted within a month. From then on, they will have to work for a living. This makes our country a less attractive destination for migration flows.” (Mitarachi, BBC News website, 7/3/2020). In a country with a broken labour market now compounded by virus policies which close down major areas of employment, the notion that refugees with asylum can find work to live is fanciful. On Samos for example young Greek adults continue to leave their homes and families, unwillingly, precisely because they cannot find work in Greece.

Other recent measures reflecting this new nastiness include the withdrawal of health provision (AMKA) to all refugees arriving after July 2019. Those with any kind of condition demanding medical care can only access health care through the emergency rooms of hospitals and have to buy their medicines. At the end of last year the Government relented and pledged to introduce a more time limited access to health care for refugees but as yet this has not been implemented. Although some help comes from some NGOs the burden of health care is largely managed by the refugees themselves. Abshir who is now in Thessaloniki regularly gives to collections for medicines that some refugees need; helping refugees negotiate the emergency rooms as well as helping the doctors with translations. This is a regular feature of refugee life here for many.

Ironically coronavirus has temporarily put an end to making refugees sign in with the Asylum Office every 2 weeks as against 4 weeks. Now that the Asylum Service can’t allow for crowds fighting to get in the office to sign as it contravenes coronavirus protocols, they have announced a temporary suspension of all signing in and that it will be done automatically, which clearly reveals that the 2 week signing in was no more than messing with refugee lives. The closure of the Asylum Offices until April 10th also entails suspending all interviews, appeals and applications.

There is plenty of impressionistic evidence from the refugees which points to the asylum procedure automatically rejecting more asylum applications now especially from those coming from one of the 10 named safe countries; again breaking international law which requires every asylum application to be assessed on its merits alone.

The combined threat of rejection, followed by detention and then deportation is driving increasing numbers of refugees underground. If they fear a reject decision, they avoid immediate detention by not going to sign in at the asylum office. In so doing they forfeit their monthly allowance and any other services they may have been given. In cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki there are now many refugees living on the streets, in abandoned buildings and those squats not yet closed by the police. On islands like Samos they are living in the jungle surviving through the support of their friends. But they are exceptionally vulnerable.

Now these numbers are expanding as those who get asylum lose their support are faced with either the streets or the jungle. I have no clear idea of the numbers, but Sofiane in the Open Doors shop estimates more than a thousand refugees with asylum living in the jungle. Many he said have given up on the idea of moving to the mainland unless they are certain of a place to live and see Samos as a better option than the streets of Athens. Neither those without papers nor those with asylum now living in the jungle seem visible to the authorities who will soon be faced with what to do with all those people once the new closed camps are created on the islands. It feels increasingly likely that destitute refugees who have asylum in Greece are going to end up in permanent refugee camps on the mainland much like those for the Palestinians in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon if the government is to deliver its pledges to decongest the islands.

Between December and March and prior to the coronavirus tsunami the news on Samos and all the frontier islands was dominated by the breakdown in the relationship between the island authorities and the Greek government which culminated in the sending of squads of riot police from Athens to Lesvos and Chios in early March. Despatched at speed, they set about attacking with batons and extensive use of tear gas the islanders’ protests against the building of new, large closed camps. Shouting traditional insults such as calling the islanders “Turkish seeds” (many islanders came from Turkey as a consequence of the 1922 population transfer between Turkey and Greece and were commonly treated with hostility when they came to Greece) they set about beating up the islanders.

It was an intervention which back-fired on Athens provoking outrage across Greece to such indiscriminate police violence which forced the government to withdraw the riot police within 36 hours. But the intervention itself still marked the determination of the government to create new closed camps on the islands, especially Lesvos, Samos and Chios. There has been no stopping the central government from the compulsory take over of large tracts land for this purpose. The government is adamant that new, larger closed camps will be built despite the significant opposition of the islands to remove the camps to the mainland, leaving a much smaller facility for processing and initial assessment as to the asylum application, In the power play the islands lost. All that they now get from government are assurances that sooner or later they will come to realise that the new camps will be a good thing for improving the situation on the island ! But these words are not believed. When it comes to the refugees on the island, years of lies and broken promises means that there is a fundamental lack of trust in the government.

Then, in these very same early March days, Erdogan announced the opening of Turkey’s borders with Europe (Greece and Bulgaria) to ostensibly allow for the estimated one million refugees escaping the violence of Idlib to flow into Europe. With an estimated 3.5 million refugees already in Turkey, Erdogan argued that they could not cope with more. They had to move on. Borders had to open.

Played out in a context of historical and current tensions between Greece and Turkey, Erdogan’s unilateral open borders declaration alongside practical measures such as providing transport to move refugees to the Evros border region between the 2 countries, was presented by government ministers and much of the media as almost a declaration of war.

As I write the extreme tensions between Greece, the EU and Turkey have calmed to some degree and dialogue has re-opened between the major parties. However, important consequences remain including the rapid increase in the militarisation of both land and sea borders and the explicit sanctioning of violence to stop refugees crossing into Greece. On the land borders to the north this has led to thousands of refugees trapped between Turkish soldiers who would not let them back and Greek soldiers who would not let them pass. All attempts to move were repulsed by violence, beatings and tear gas.

At sea it was little better as videos were published on social media sites showing Greek coastguards trying to capsize rubber refugee boats packed with families, beating them with long poles and firing their rifles into the sea around their dinghies. These are not isolated incidents perpetuated by a few ‘rogue’ officers but sanctioned orders as revealed by the Danish Frontex officers who refused to follow orders issued by the central command of Operation Poseidon to put 33 refugees they had rescued back into their boat and drag them outside Greek territorial waters – classic push back. The Danish officers refused to follow illegal orders and were supported in so doing by Denmark’s minister of defence (Reported by Are You Syrios 6/3/2020).

Greece is not unique in breaking international law and conventions with virtual impunity. The decision to suspend , for one month, the asylum rights of refugees coming into Greece if they arrived after March 1 is a fundamental breach but apart from the outcry from human rights groups and activists, the EU, and the USA tacitly sanctioned the law breaking regarding it as an appropriate response to Turkey’s ‘asymmetrical’ attack on Greece/Europe. This, alongside the militarisation of the borders and use of violence against refugees now trying to into Greece was indeed praised by the President of the EU acclaiming Greece as the “shield of Europe”. So the very body charged with monitoring member states’ adherence to international law was in a myriad of ways giving Greece a green light to continue. Which it does.

Israel is probably one of Greece’s closest allies now both economically and militarily. Israel is a serial lawbreaker. No other country comes near when it comes to ignoring international law with impunity. There is now more than a whiff of Israeli influence on Greek refugee policy. And who better to show Greece how to develop a militarised control strategy for refugees?

Always to the disadvantage of the refugees, Greece now has a government which in so many key areas is simply unintelligent. Sending squadrons of riot police to Lesvos and Chios was not a bright move. Government ministers are now attacking NGOs and volunteers working with refugees with extreme vitriol blaming them for causing unrest amongst the refugees and on the islands. Again not a bright move with worrying unintended consequences. At the beginning of March migration minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos called the NGOs bloodsuckers and agitators and facilitators of refugee traffic and hence border weakening. One immediate effect of such statements was the arrival of neo Fascists especially from Austria and Germany on Lesvos. Proclaiming that they had come to help and show solidarity with those police and soldiers guarding Greece’s /Europe’s borders they have been attacking refugees and NGO workers and volunteers. When confronted on Lesvos by outraged locals, the neo fascists were reported as threatening “ to do to you what we did in Kalavryta” when the Nazis killed 483 men and boys there in December 1943 (Keep Talking Greece 5/3/2020). This particular group has now been driven off Lesvos.

Simultaneously in the Evros area we now see armed vigilantes, with official support, driving their tractors and trucks in the remote border lands on the look out for refugees. The government praises the patriotism of these hunters and all those who drove out with food and drink to nourish the soldiers. But as Yannis Laskarakis, a newspaper publisher in the northern city of Alexandroupouli wrote “ We see them [vigilantes] with our own eyes, arresting migrants, treating them badly and if someone tries to help the migrants, he has the same fate” (BBC News, 7/3/2020). When governments sanction violence and hatred, not against equivalent opponents, but defenceless men, women and children who are weak and desperate for life and safety, they are dangerous to us all. And in Greece where there has long been a vibrant fascist stream within the society and the police in particular, the government is playing with fire unleashing elements over which they have no control.

Samos has not as yet witnessed much in the way of vigilante and fascist activity. I don’t know why. There is plenty of rumbling discontent about the NGOs as unaccountable plunderers but then this has been the case for years here. Neither have we seen the physical attacks on refugee workers and agencies which on Lesvos and Chios resulted in projects being withdrawn or suspended and volunteers leaving the islands for their own safety. On Samos it is the coronavirus strategy which has now led to the closure of every refugee project in Samos town and within the hotspot itself.

With all the shop, bar and cafe closures, and other virus protocols stressing self-isolation, there are now few locals on the streets of Samos town. On Monday of this week I would estimate that 90% of the people out and about in town were refugees. This bothers the police and probably many others, but it is the police you see on the streets trying to prevent groups of refugees from gathering and insisting that they keep 2 metres apart. But as one group of refugees pointed out to the police, “you want us to have space when we are out in the town but in the camp you pack us like beans in a tin”.

I want to conclude with a discussion we had in the shop a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about humanity. Where had it gone ? Was it really dead in the world today. Then Mohammed a young guy from Gaza bluntly observed “the system does not do humanity. Never has as far as I can tell”. There was total agreement amongst us. With Sofiane summing up what we thought when he said “the rich and the powerful in this world don’t give a fuck about us. And when I say us I don’t just mean refugees but all the poor of the world. They rob us every day.” Then Alice, from Somalia made a point which we felt was so important when she said that in her eyes humanity was not dead. She sees it everyday in the camp and in how we survive. And I saw the same in Somalia. Amongst the people. Humanity is alive. It is how we live. But it is not ‘up there’. Only with the people.”


Post Script

Within a few hours of posting, I received the following e mail from Salma, a single woman from Uganda who was in the Samos camp before moving to Athens.

“On my side out here, I am trying just like any ordinary human being to keep my head above the water by working to ensure that at least I have a decent roof over my head and some small bread at my table to eat. I arrived in Athens four months ago and unlike most of my counterparts, by the special grace of the good God above, i was lucky to get a small blue collar job as a cleaning lady for a cleaning company here in Athens. It doesn’t pay much just 3 Euros per hour and I happen to work 6 hours a day on average. For this I am grateful every though it is really tiring and back breaking. But what choice do I have but just to keep on going as I wait for my decision from the Greek Asylum to come through. At least I have something to keep myself busy and put bread on my table. Another aspect that really helped me out to get this job was the mere fact that whilst I was in Samos during last Summer season, I moved up and down to obtain the necessary documents that can permit me to work anywhere in Greece because by then I also managed to get another small part time job as a kitchen assistant. These documents are of so much help to me especially as I carry on my work here in Athens. Many of my counterparts can’t get jobs because they don’t have these papers owing to the fact that the new Government no longer grants AMKA to refugees anymore. Because of this aspect, many are left stranded often resorting to several dubious ways of earning some money such as prostitution and drug trafficking. But what really baffles me is the fact that even those who have acquired their residence permits and passports also find it hard to get employment although some use the advantage of their newly acquired permits and passports to ferry drugs to and fro Europe and also engage in life threatening activities like prostitution and money laundering. So I sometimes ask myself, could this be as a result of the dependence syndrome which has been caused by the laxity of the slow Greek asylum system or the Greek economic crisis that is still on going?  Anyway I’d seem so unfair to judge anyone at this point because I myself I’m not a saint.”

An Open Letter to Humanity Crew

I do have better things to do with my time but after reading Humanity Crew’s report of its 5 day visit to Samos in January 2020, I am angry enough to write this open letter.

From the beginning to the end, your report is full of errors.

Take your opening sentence:

Today, the island of Samos has more refugees than it has locals;
7200 refugees and 6500 locals live in Samos

Wrong. Samos has a population of 32,977 according to the last census. 9,000 of whom live in Samos town where the refugees live.

What sort of ‘experts’ did you send who couldn’t get this simple fact correct?

The relationship between the residents of Samos town and the refugees is complex and dynamic. As I have written in the Samos Chronicles there are both positives and negatives. But unlike on Lesvos and Chios the proximity of the town is one of the most supportive factors in the life of refugees here. In simple terms it is where they can be and feel human. So every day you will see hundreds of refugees walking the short distance into the town. Some go the various centres (Alpha, Banana House……..) others to simply walk by the shops or by the sea and others to shop. But, according to your experts,

Moreover, notwithstanding the centers in the city, it is difficult for one to actually access the city from the ‘jungle’. The road is very rough for both people and cars to cross, which means that it is also very difficult for ambulances to reach the jungle should an emergency happen. All this means that the jungle is basically cut off from the world.

Wrong. So very wrong. These kinds of statements strongly suggest to me that your experts did not talk to the refugees here.

No sane human being could ever dispute that the camp and jungle is an affront to humanity. In Europe today you would face criminal prosecution if you treated your pets or livestock in this way. The cruelties are almost without limit. They do not need to be exaggerated which is precisely what your experts do:

In their visit, both Dr. Daod and Mansur observed that prostitution, drug dealing and other illicit activities occurring inside the tents were pervasive throughout the entire jungle. Many children were left alone outside the tents, neglected, and eventually becoming subjects of harassment and assault. Most children were barefoot and reported not feeling the cold in their damaged, frozen feet .”This is a coping mechanism-an emotional freeze that leads to physical freeze,’ says Mansur.” ( my emphasis)

No one would deny these problems but never on the scale you suggest. Refugees survive here largely through their own efforts and solidarities. Where do you talk about this? There are thousands of children in the camp and they have thousands more looking out for them.

Why didn’t your experts spend time in the Open Doors shop? Was it because it is run by refugees for refugees? Was it because it is one of the most inspiring initiatives in the town and the best place to find out what is going on. If your experts had come to the shop and told them that most of the children had no shoes they would immediately mobilise to fix the problem. But the fact is that most children have shoes because the refugees would not tolerate them being without.

As for their recommendations it was no more than ‘stating the bleeding obvious’.

And lastly, at the end of the report I find your request “Give a Gift to the refugees in Samos” but in fact this is no more than a link to your organisation’s donations and fund-raising page with no mention of Samos at all. And of course no information as to the actual recipients and for what purpose these funds are to be used.

I would like to know how much you spent sending your expert team to Samos. The refugees here would like to know also. Maybe those who are considering sending you money would also like to know.

When I visited your office in Haifa about 3 years ago I came away thinking you had something important to offer.

What happened?

Yours etc,

Chris Jones

Samos Island 17 Feb 2020iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiG

In fact

Deepening Cruelties and Delusions on the Greek Frontier Islands

“Seventy-five years after the liberation of this place by the Red Army, we should all make this sacred commitment to never forget what happened here. And let us never forget that hatred, discrimination, intolerance have no place in our democracy”.

(Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 27 Jan 2020, at Auschwitz 75th Liberation event, Ekathimerini 27/1/20)

Just what does your sacred commitment to never forget “that hatred, discrimination, intolerance have no place in our democracy” mean? Your government has recently removed access to public health care to all new refugee arrivals; you are in the process of building new closed camps on Samos, Lesbos and Chios; you are planning to deport 10,000 people this year; you have done nothing to improve the physical conditions in the Hot Spots; you continue to hold refugees including children in police cells that have been continually and extensively denounced as inhumane; and you are sanctioning a significant militarisation of the seas around the border islands in conjunction with the EU. Did none of this come to mind as you wandered around Auschwitz? Surely your plans for the closed camps with their deliberate bleak design behind the razor wire fences in remote and barren locations which will also contain an even more secure detention area for holding those for deportation shadowed your mind, albeit briefly.


Site of new closed camp being built on Samos


Plans for the hot spot




Hatred, discrimination and intolerance all feature centrally in the management of refugees struggling to find a future for themselves in Europe. This indeed is the central message of all the major refugee support groups in Greece which have universally condemned this government’s International Protection Act which came into force in January 2020. This legislation marks a significant hardening of the procedures and practices governing asylum seekers making it to Greece. As far as the refugees are concerned there is nothing positive in the legislation. “This new law expands grounds to detain asylum seekers, increases bureaucratic hurdles to make appeals, and removes previous protections for vulnerable individuals who arrive to the Greek islands. Specifically, all individuals that arrive from Turkey are now prohibited from leaving the islands until their applications are processed, unless geographic restrictions are lifted at the discretion of the authorities. These changes ultimately will lead to an increased population of asylum seekers trapped in Lesvos,[and all the frontier islands including Samos] and an increasing number of people trapped here who have had their asylum claims rejected and face deportation to Turkey” (Legal Centre Lesvos, 22 Jan 2020, http://legalcentrelesvos.org/2020/01/22/january-2020-report-on-rights-violations-and-resistance-in-lesvos/.)

Many of the new procedures increase the need for asylum seekers to have adequate legal support but in the almost total absence of state funded lawyers on the frontier islands there is no chance of this happening. “Under the new law, asylum seekers in the islands’ hot spots have only five days to appeal a first negative decision, within which time they also have to find a lawyer and submit the precise grounds and reasons for this appeal in a memorandum in Greek. Given that there is only one state-appointed lawyer working in Lesvos [and Samos is no different) and that there are not sufficient NGO lawyers available to represent people for appeals, having a memorandum in Greek within five days, will be practically impossible for the vast majority of people seeking asylum” No Rights Zone, p7). Making it even worse are the actual realities of the hot spots where hundreds of desperate people try to access the Asylum Office every day and fail. The Lesvos legal centre gave one example this month of a family with 2 young children who tried for five days to get through the door of the Asylum Office in Moira Camp and only succeeded through a chance meeting with a lawyer. Under the new law failure to turn up for an appointment promises dire consequences including the presumption that their non attendance indicates that they are no longer seeking to continue with their asylum application. An application, which for many refugees has now been significantly further undermined by the Act’s identification of 12 ‘safe’ countries. As all the critics have pointed out the safe country designation will inevitably lead to many asylum rejections as the system now assumes that people from these countries are not deemed to be in need of international protection. In a September 2019 Press Release the Ministry of Citizen Protection argued that ‘the refugee issue –of Syrians and Iraqis –has shifted to a migration issue of Afghans and sub-Saharans’, implying that nationals from these countries cannot have valid asylum claims in an attempt to justify laws that violate international standards and safeguards. “ This assumption is inappropriate since irrespective of the country of origin, international law requires an independent assessment of each individual claim. It is also not supported by the facts: Afghanistan is still a top ‘refugee producing country’ according to UNHCR, with a recognition rate in Greece of over 70 percent during the first ten months of 2019” (No Rights Zone Dec 2019,p.7).

Neither is it re-assuring that the new Act now allows police and army personnel to conduct these first interviews. And to cap that further, the Government has made it a priority to achieve 10,000 deportations to Turkey in 2020. As the Greek Council for Refugees noted in its condemnation of the legislation:

the Greek State, instead of planning a policy to solve the real problems of the Greek asylum and reception system ……. chooses to handle the existing crisis with regulations that reduce fundamental guarantees of the asylum and reception system and are unilaterally directed towards the increase of returns.”(https://www.gcr.gr/media/k2/attachments/GCR_on_bill_about_International_Protection_en.pdf)

In 2019, 74% of the refugees on the frontier islands were assessed as vulnerable. The majority of refugees now are young families. In addition, there are thousands of unaccompanied minors. So many of the refugees here are young; children, infants and teens, the lucky ones being with their parents. Even though the new legislation has been in force only for a few weeks it is clear from what our friends in the camp and elsewhere are telling us that it is frightening them and making an intolerable situation worse. Some of the most recent changes seem to be little more than messing the refugees about. What other justification can there be to now making refugees sign for their payment card every two weeks rather than every four weeks as it was before?

The adult refugees see and experience all too clearly the shift towards increased harshness and abandonment. They tell us that in the past few weeks there has been a marked increase in stop and searches, especially by plains clothes police. If your papers are not in order you are arrested and detained. They also tell us that more and more people now are getting rejections. Many of the African refugees are now more frightened that they are going to be deported. Last night I was on the phone with a Somalian friend  now in Thessaloniki who told me that he had just heard from Samos where a fellow Somalian who was initially rejected in December 2017 and then appealed, has just been told that his appeal was unsuccessful and that he will be deported within the next 2 weeks. Cruel. There are no other words.

And it will get worse as more and more refugees rather than waiting for what they feel is the inevitable rejection and detention (especially single people from sub Saharan Africa) will go underground. Some will certainly find ways of getting out of Greece, although this is getting harder and more dangerous as they seek out wilderness routes to avoid detection. Many more will join the thousands without papers living /surviving on the streets of the big cities. But these too are now being targeted with increased raids on places where they live and meet.

Back on Samos

In the meantime the Greek frontier islands have seen a spate of mobilisations over the past two weeks protesting especially the government’s decision to build new, large, closed hot spots on Chios, Samos and Lesbos and turning the open camps currently on Leros and Kos into closed camps. The protests have been driven largely by the Mayors of Lesbos, Chios and Samos town, all of whom are New Democracy, as is the government. This has been reflected in the attention and time currently accorded the mayors by the Athens government with relevant ministers now regularly coming to the islands in an attempt to appease the mayors. But all the mayors are getting is soothing words and expressions of concern at the ‘undoubted strains’ facing the islanders. In so many ways it is little more than theatre for the mayors must know that EU/Turkey pact of 2016 is sacrosanct and cannot be threatened. It is this agreement which determines the necessity for the camps on the frontier islands. Turkey will only accept deportations from the islands and not the mainland. Consequently there is no chance to deliver on the mayors’ demands that no new closed camps be built and that all refugees be removed leaving only a much smaller operation focused on rapidly transiting new refugee arrivals to the mainland.

Instead, what the government is promising for Samos and the other frontier islands is tighter control over the refugees through the closed camps alongside deepening the militarisation of the borders in an attempt to stop refugee arrivals. In the case of Samos this means the closure of the camp in Samos town and the building and opening of a bigger but closed camp in the middle of nowhere. In a surprise move the government announced on February 10 2020 that it had taken powers to requisition the land it needed for its future plans. No discussion. So much for the mayors,who responded by threatening to withdraw all co-operation with the government. In the case of Samos the land grab is huge. 216 acres alongside the new hot spot. It can only mean that they are taking steps to make an even bigger camp than previously announced. The mayors had been told that the camps would be for 2,000, then 5,000, and most recently 7,000. Now?????

Land Grab! The hot spot now being built is focused around the white building on left of new boundary.

As for militarisation big money is being spent and committed. In the past three weeks the Samos media has reported on the order of 15 high speed patrol boats and the tender for a floating plastic barrier of around 2.5 kms length to be trialled in the sea around Lesvos with a view to similar installations to follow in Chios and Samos. According to Nikos Panagiatopoulis, minister of defence, “We will see what deterrent effect this [fence] will have when it is put into practice. But it will be a natural obstacle. If it works, as it did in Evros, I expect it will have some effect….We are trying to find solutions to somehow reduce the flow (Samos Voice 30 Jan 2020). This latest announcement has been widely derided as delusional as “even a child knows you can’t build a fence out in the sea!”. For many on the island it is all too reminiscent of the Zeppelin which was launched with such a fanfare barely a year ago. This too was to be a significant weapon in reducing arrivals. It didn’t. It has gone. But unlike its arrival it departed in silence.

Much of what is now being implemented with the new legislation and being proposed with respect to the use of extensive detention, deportations without due process and the stopping of refugee arrivals is of dubious legality with respect to international law and conventions concerning refugees and asylum seekers. There will be resistance especially in the law courts as so many fundamental principles concerning rights to international protection are under threat. Implementation will almost certainly have to be modified and held back. Combined with the proven incompetence of the Greek state authorities and agencies and sheer lack of capacity to implement the proposals promises chaos with refugees bearing the consequences. For example, “the latest report of the European Court of Auditors highlighted that ‘accelerated procedures’ implemented in Greece have become lengthier and the time between the registration of the asylum seeker and the first asylum decision increased from 236 days in 2016 (7-8 months) to 363 days (nearly a full year) in 2018 “(No Rights Zone, 2019, p.7) In Lesvos earlier this month the introduction of the policy to make refugees renew their papers every 2 weeks as against 4 weeks had to be abandoned simply because they were overwhelmed.

Not surprisingly then there is much scepticism on Samos as to what might happen. Even though the new camp is being built now many refugees and activists here don’t think it will open. Despite notices in the camp posted this past Monday informing that all refugees would be moved, including families and minors in rental accommodation by April 2020, the scepticism remains. The day to day evidence of the relentless neglect of the authorities is overwhelming. And, like the islanders, they no longer believe the promises of government action because they too experience the sheer lack of both numbers and ability across the spectrum from lawyers to social workers; from asylum officers to doctors and translators to make any of the proposals work. It is a long list. But then as one young woman from Kuwait told me the other day, “What can I expect from a government which can’t even provide us with a toilet?”

(It is 7am on Saturday 1st Feb 2020 and I can see from my room a cargo vessel heading towards Samos harbour full of accommodation containers for the new closed camp. As much as the scepticism over the opening of a new camp is understandable, it would be mistaken not to see that at this point in time there is a much greater sense of urgency and determination in the actions of the Greek government to shift towards even more repressive refugee policies and practices. But will it last?)

Sadly intelligence has not been a notable characteristic of the main public refugee debates on Samos. At this moment we have ranting mayors most notably exemplified by the mayor of Vathi who takes every opportunity to be televised telling the Greek people how awful life is on Samos for the people because of the refugees. It seems that their culture, language and identity are in dire danger. Sadly too many nod their heads even though there is not the slightest danger of this happening but on an island that has and continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and its associated emaciated and inadequate public services, the refugees offer a convenient scapegoat.


Samos mayor George Stantzos ranting at refugees in the central square of Samos town, December 2019 Video on My Samos Blog

A simple walk through Samos town made vibrant with the presence of young people and children is all that is needed to cut through the mayor’s distortions. It is a walk that makes you think about how a small town like Vathi has come to live alongside up to 7,000 refugees when until recently it was rare ever to see a black or Arab person in the town. It is a walk where you see many smiles. It is a walk where you don’t feel afraid or fearful. Just yesterday I was with a small crowd of local people who were watching 2 young boys, one from the Congo and the other from Syria playing marbles outside the refugee shop, Open Doors. Marbles was once a popular children’s game here it seems as much of the chatter was about how good it was to see the game being played again. Lots of laughter and just one more example from our daily lives here which expose the endless distortions of the mayor and his vociferous supporters.

Samos Town, December 2019

It is not fear but a deep shame that shadows this town. It is an island which saw many flee the Nazi invasion and who ended up living for years in refugee camps in Palestine and Egypt. It is an experience not yet forgotten in many families here. Many islanders understand that what is going on here is both wrong and cruel. And for us, the camp is the tumour of Samos and what makes this beautiful island a dark place. This is what needs to change.



This blog makes great use of Statewatch. It is a magnificent resource. All the documents cited in this piece can be found on their site: http://www.statewatch.org/eu-med-crisis.htm.


No copyright. Please use and circulate as you can!

Samos Refugees: A reluctant update on enduring cruelties

Over the past few months I have been asked by various groups and individuals to provide an update on the refugee situation on Samos.

Until now I have not responded to these requests for the simple reason I have nothing new to add to earlier blog articles. For as far as the refugees here are concerned it is still the same old shit.

Of course there have been changes over time the most notable being the EU/Turkey pact of 2016. Before the pact, refugees on the whole were held for months, sometimes just a few days, before being allowed to move off the islands. Now it can be years. But whether it has been just for a few days or 3 years the refugees have never been welcomed or embraced by the authorities. This is perpetually demonstrated by the penal like design and construction of the camp, its appalling accommodation, its unspeakable food, lack of basic medical facilities, wholly inadequate toilets and showers, the refusal to open empty schools and hotels to offer decent spaces for people to live,…..the list goes on1. Its been like this for so long now that it’s almost normalised. And there is no end in sight. All of the latest proposals from the recently elected conservative (New Democracy) government promise more repression and more detention. It is always hard to predict in Greece what will actually be implemented but on Samos at least the Government is now building a new camp located on the site of an old slaughter house in the middle of nowhere which will not only be closed, but will also contain a prison for holding those identified for deportation.

So there is simply nothing to update on this basic reality except to say that the main responsible agencies have become masters of consistency in the reproduction of shit. The seemingly endless publication of critical reports which highlight many of these issues on Samos and elsewhere have not made one iota of difference. Water off a duck’s back.

In the meantime the refugees continue to arrive. 600 last week which makes a mockery of the government’s periodic ‘decongestion’ efforts of periodically shipping ferry loads of refugees to the mainland. Turkey has long recognised that the massive numbers of refugees living in Turkey (3 million plus) and its awareness that the EU is desperate that they should stay there and not move onto Europe gives them a powerful weapon. Currently there is little doubt that the recent increase in refugees arriving on the frontier islands is an attempt by the Turkish government to force the EU to stop harassing Turkey over its oil and gas explorations around Cyprus. To that end, Turkey is now making life very difficult for refugees especially those living in Istanbul with forced deportations especially back to Syria and Afghanistan. This is the context of the current increase in numbers seeking to escape from Turkey. Refugees are little more than a pawn in this conflict used mercilessly to extract concessions from one side or the other.

On Samos, as with the other frontier islands, it has now become widely seen as a ‘bad thing’ for refugees to be detained for so long on the islands. But on Samos at least the reality is more paradoxical. Today increasing numbers of refugees on Samos would prefer to stay here rather than be moved to the mainland. Many know that camps such as Nea Kavala in northern Greece – an isolated former airfield- are far worse than Samos. It is hard to forget David’s reaction when he arrived from Samos to the Nea Kavala camp. Total shock! He told me that he along with the 300 refugees who were moved there from Samos just walked around in a daze at what they found. Many wanted to come back to Samos where at least they had easy access to the town and its facilities and some much needed services provided by volunteer groups and NGOs. But most importantly, because of their extended stay on Samos this is where they have established networks of friends and in the ‘jungle’ surrounding the Hotspot, they have built shelters and homes some of which are breathtaking in their comfort. No one in their right mind would dispute that the camp and the surrounding jungle is a hell hole. But it is also much more. It is also a place of homes and of people (including thousands of children) making a life. To ignore this as many do leads to a fundamental mistake in failing to acknowledge the extent of refugee well-being falls on their shoulders and their humanity. This week Younis a young Palestinian from Gaza was telling me how much he enjoyed visiting his friends in the jungle and spending the evening laughing and eating sitting around an open fire. In parts of the jungle the refugees are developing clusters of around 10 shelters with each cluster having its own shower and toilet!

Making a Home




Inside the Shelter

Part of the Jungle

Last week over 600 new refugees arrived on Samos. Included in that number was Juno from the Congo, traveling alone. Once finished with the initial processing he and the others in his boat were taken to the camp. They were told to find somewhere to sleep in the jungle. He was given no tent, no blanket and no money for at least 2 weeks. All he was told was where the Africans have their tents. This is now the common experience for new arrivals, especially single men and women. Families with children usually fare better. If it wasn’t for the solidarity and self-organisation of the refugees Juno would have found himself in danger. Within days of his arrival he like hundreds before him were hauling wood and polythene into the jungle where at a small cost he had his shelter made. There is a thriving shelter building business now in the camp!

So there we have it. Despite the shit and their abandonment the great majority of refugees irrespective of origin are engaged in that elemental human activity of making a home drawing on whatever materials they can afford or scrounge.

But the skills, the talents, the ingenuity and the extraordinary resilience of the refugees as a whole is not applauded and not even noticed in most cases. Although in an Open TV broadcast in late November 2019, the reporter Zizi Mousios observed “ what is happening in Samos is something unprecedented,we started in Leros, we went to Kos , here [on Samos] we have a favela” (My Samos Blog, 29th November 2019).

Since the autumn we have had a new mayor (Giorgos Stantzos) in Samos town. He is making a lot of noise about the camp and refugees. He wants the lot out. “There is no way that Samos, which doesn’t have a mosque, will accept a Muslim village” (The Samos Uprising, Ekathimareni Nov 28th 2019). Amongst his latest announcements he has expressed concern about the high number of ‘unauthorised’ structures that the refugees have built in the jungle, and the creation of ‘neighbourhoods’ there. The fact these shelters allow the refugees to survive is utterly ignored. That we are not burying bodies every week is almost entirely due to the refugees. Amidst the anger, the tensions and conflicts which are ever present realities of refugee life on Samos there is also a deep resource of solidarity and care which in the end is far more significant.

In stark contrast to the authorities, the refugees have been and are busy still preparing for the heavy winter rains which started a few days ago. I can’t speak of the other frontier islands but Samos has monsoon like weather, especially in January and February, but also earlier like now when it can rain torrential for days at a time. To my knowledge, never in the past 13 years have the authorities done anything significant to help the refugees get through this season. Adherence to the deterrent doctrine which so self-evidently fails to halt the movement of refugees, is as strong as ever. So nothing, nothing at all is or should be done to improve conditions and services for refugees as to do so would attract even more. And flowing from the same deterrence doctrine resources which should and could be directed towards refugee welfare are flowing with ever greater rapidity into border hardening, surveillance, and militarisation:

The European military and security industry through their successful lobbying has succeeded in framing migration as a security threat rather than a humanitarian challenge. This has turned on a seemingly limitless tap of public funding for militarising our borders yet prevented the policies and investments we need to respond humanely to refugees and to tackle the root causes of forced migration.”

Available data shows at least €900 million has been spent on land walls and fences, €676.4 million on maritime operations (2006 to 2017) and €999.4m on its virtual walls (2000-2019). In addition, companies have benefited from the €1.7 billion budget of the European Commission’s External Borders Fund (2007-2013) and the €2.76 billion Internal Security Fund – Borders (2014-2020). In the next EU budget cycle (2021–2027), the European Commission has earmarked €8.02 billion to its Integrated Border Management Fund (2021-2027) and €11.27 billion to its coastguard agency Frontex.

(TNI, November 2019, https://www.tni.org/en/article/berlin-walls-30th-anniversary-the-businesses-booming-from-europes-new-walls)

Here on Samos, the much heralded Zeppelin airship has come and gone (no explanation given for its departure) but now we are more likely to see patrol boats and warships from our beaches than fishing boats; we now have to negotiate our departures through intensively policed ports with their accompanying plain clothes officers sidling up to you in the queue to board the ferry asking for your papers, as well as the armoured ninja turtle police crawling around and on top of the lorries seeking out those refugees trying to escape from Samos. This impacts on all of our lives. We can see the growth in police numbers in Samos town as well as their modern paramilitary vehicles on our streets and the coach loads of riot police sitting day in and day out on the roads around the camp.

Welcome to Samos!

For the refugees these changes have made their journeys from Turkey to Samos more difficult and hazardous. It is common place now to hear that refugees have made 5, 6, 7 or more attempts to cross. According to the Aegean Boat Report between November 11th and November 17th 2019 a “total of 164 boats started their trip towards the Greek Islands, carrying a total of 6097 people. However, 91 boats were stopped by TCG/police, and 2444 people arrived on the Greek Islands. So far this year 2849 boats have been stopped by The Turkish Coast Guard and Police.” (http://www.statewatch.org/news/2019/nov/a-b-rWeekly-46-19.pdf). But for the moment at least the patrol boats operating out of Samos are still rescuing refugees who have made it into Greek waters and bringing them to the island. Ten years ago this was not the case and the Samos coastguards were notorious for their push-backs.

This is what I witness on Samos this little Greek island that finds itself on the frontier of Europe. This tiny spot on the map has and continues to be a gateway into Europe for tens of thousands of refugees. It is for the great majority their first taste of Europe. And what a taste they get! Over the years it takes to become a ‘legal’ human being again, they are treated like SHIT. If they were horses, or dogs, those responsible for their cruel treatment would be hauled in front of the courts.

But tiny as it is, Samos along with all the frontier islands must not be ignored for these are some of the places where a terrifying politics of cruelty has taken root and is flourishing, virtually unopposed. Sometimes the press will fleetingly remind a wider world of Samos if there is something sensational to report, usually deaths at sea. But as with mushrooms the policies, practices and doctrines that are being played out on Samos and elsewhere along the frontier flourish better in darkness. This is what it feels like.

And it is dismaying and disheartening that such elemental cruelties are allowed to continue year on year. The consequences, many yet waiting to be revealed for both the refugees as well as the people of Europe are certain to be dire. It would seem that others are now recognising this. Dr Christos Christou, International President, Médecins Sans Frontières has just published an open letter to ‘European Leaders’. Returning from the Greek frontier islands, he wrote:

The situation is comparable with what we see after natural disasters or in war zones in other parts of the world. It is outrageous to see these conditions in Europe – a supposedly safe continent – and to know that they are the result of deliberate political choices. (my emphasis)

Rather than acknowledging the human cost of your approach, you continue to call for a more forceful implementation of the EU Turkey deal. You even consider more brutal measures, like the Greek government’s recently announced plans to convert the hotspots into mass detention centres, and to accelerate deportations.

Stop this madness.….

As MSF, we can’t accept this blatant dehumanisation. No matter what assistance we provide to our patients, afterwards we have to send them back to the conditions which are making them ill, conditions that you have deliberately created. ….

As a medical doctor representing a humanitarian organisation, I am outraged to see how you have justified and normalised this suffering, as if it were an acceptable price to pay to keep as many people as possible out of Europe.

No political reasoning can justify measures that deliberately and consciously inflict harm – and we have repeatedly warned you these policies do. Stop ignoring it, stop pretending that they don’t.“(November 27 2019, https://www.msf.org/european-leaders-must-stop-punishing-asylum-seekers-greek-islands)

The entire approach of the authorities responsible both in Greece and the EU has led to the creation of a mega business with powerful vested interests which has much to gain and is unlikely to be shifted. It is naive to think otherwise. The growing grass root mobilisations around the world against global annihilation are fueled by the understanding that the greed and avarice of the powerful will drive us to extinction. And it is the very same values that frame the cruelties unleashed on the refugees. Any chance of a future for humanity rests not in the citadels of existing power. This is where MSF and other NGOs get it wrong, time and again, for none of their critical reports or statements over the years have had any impact on power and their policies Change will only come from the ‘bottom’ and only when we realise more widely that virtually all the major challenges facing humanity – environmental destruction, wars, massive inequalities and poverty and the flows of people forced to move as a consequence are deeply inter-connected. They draw their power from the same well.



Footnote 1 Missing from the list is any mention of the Greek Orthodox Church which has a massive presence and influence on Samos and Greece as a whole. Sadly, at least with respect to refugees it has demonstrated no compassion and no humanity. For the global Christian world it must be deeply shameful to be associated with such a cruel institution

Painful Times

One day in September, in Athens, the capital of Greece, I do not remember the exact day or time, but I remember that the sun was gathering it’s beautiful red dress and preparing to leave. I remember being at the house of one of my friends drinking hot green tea when my phone did rang. The caller was my close friend Hamid with whom I have shared my life for four consecutive years.

Me : Hi Hamid .

Hamid : Hi Saad try to come quickly to the house i want tell you something very important.

Me : what’s happened? Please tell me .

Hamid : we have to leave Greece today walking to Holland . That is my decision.

Me: what are you saying? Are you crazy?

Hamid: No, I am not crazy, but I am so tired of this disgusting situation, a year and a half in Greece and we have not even got our confidence to prove ourselves and still we wait for the right of asylum. We must leave this tired country.

Me: But the journey is long and very difficult and we will need a lot of money that we do not have.

Hamid: My cousin will go with us and he will help with the cost of the journey .

Me: What about me ? How i will do it with you ? I have no money.

Hamid: you know that we have a small amount of money that should be enough to get to Bosnia, and after Bosnia I will ask my cousin to help and if he will not accept i will find way don’t worry .

Me: No no no this talk does not convince me. I’m afraid

Hamid: Please agree . We do not have enough time for discussion, the group is ready to go and they have decided to start today in the evening.

Me: Let me call Sam and Bob.

Hamid: I agree, call them and ask them, maybe they will give us useful advice.

I called Sam.

Me : Hi Sam, how are you?

Sam: Hi Saad, I’m fine and how are you?

Me: I’m not okay, Hamid says that we should leave Athens for Holland by walking, what do you advise us to do.

Sam: Whaaaaaat? What are you saying, how’s that? when ? And how?

Me: I don’t know the details but he said that his cousin will be with us and he will help us with some money, and that they want to go this evening; in just a few hours.

Sam: What? this fast ? What do you think of this decision? Do you agree ? are you satisfied ? Can you walk all that way?

Me : I am not convinced and I am afraid that I can not walk so far because of my asthma. And I do not have enough money and I have no idea how much this travel will cost and no idea of the seriousness of the journey and what can happen to us.

Sam: What about Hamid? What is his vision?

Me: Hamid is completely determined to go and does not want to change his mind.

Sam: I understand so try to talk with him again maybe he will change his mind and if he doesn’t accept just let him go but don’t give him any money because I’m sure he will need it later in his journey.And don’t change your mind but stay in Athens because Hamid will need your help later .


I put some clothes in a bag and gave it to Hamid and walked with him to the door of the apartment as the tears poured out of our eyes like rain of the last of November.

I said ‘take care of yourself, trust me and my love for you and know that my soul will accompany you on your way. I have no one in this world except you, please be strong. Trust that failure is the beginning of success and you will never fail. If you will feel for one minute that you will not be able to go on then come back and you will find me here waiting for you’.

Hamid, do not be afraid because you are a strong man, keep yourself well, remember the beautiful things and consider this trip as a journey of scientific exploration in order to get know other countries which you can share with me.

I love you so much as you are and as you were and as you will be and I will never abandon you.

He just said that I love you and trust you , he said it simply but his eyes were full of tears and his mouth drew a beautiful smile which hid so many of his feelings.

Hamid went and i closed the door quietly and in my heart I hoped that he would return after an hour or two. I did not know what to do. Should I cry until i lose all the water and the blood from my body and then fall down unconscious ? or follow him quickly ? or change my clothes and wait for Zoe and her boyfriend Nikos and my friend Ghiath who i have appointment with in my home  after one and half hours ? There was not enough time left to think . I should change my clothes and put the table and chairs on the balcony to welcome my guests.

I washed my face and attended to everything to receive my friends, but my heart was very sad because the water that washed my tears could not free my heart from its sadness and confusion.


Ghiath brought with him a Syrian sweet ( Halawa Tahinia ), which is one of the most delicious types of sweet whichI love so much. Nikos and Zoe brought with them flowers .

Perhaps those flowers will fill the empty space in my room or even accompany me during the night, but the dessert was the most beautiful gift from Ghiath as for a short time its taste made me forget the bitter taste of Hamid’s leaving.

We sat on the balcony and the conversation was fun, I tried to share their laughs and smile but my heart was crying.

That evening passed quickly and I was able to hide my tears and secret fears. After some hours my friends left and I stayed alone in my room and there my tears flowed safely without hindrance.

It was the longest night of my life, sitting on my bed, covered with a white cover and painted with colourful flowers.

Oh that bed now seems very very big, even bigger than the whole world and I do not know how to sleep on it; is it bigger than the distance between me and Hamid at that moment? I do not know the answer, but I am very sure that I miss him and I want him beside me now, but I do not know how.

I tried to contact Hamid more than once, but he did not answer. I do not know why, but he must answer and return back because I need him and I can not live alone without him.

The question I asked myself was ‘am I weak? Or is parting just so very difficult? ‘

I could not sleep that night, not even a minute. Tears did not allow my eyes to sleep.

With the sun shining and the sound of sparrows outside my window ,my phone rang.It is Hamid.

Me: ‘Hamid Are you back? Do you want me to open the door? I knew that you would not continue that damned journey which will grow the distance between us’.

Hamid: ‘No no darling I have not come back I just want to apologize because I could not answer your call yesterday as I was on the Greek-Albanian border. I am now in Albania and I will go after few minutes to its capital. The weather is very good here, I miss you a lot, are you okay ? Please don’t cry, you promised me to be strong, I am sorry i have to go now .

Me: ‘Hamid tell me that you love me, please’.

Hamid: ‘I love you.’

Then he broke down crying and ended the call.

I remember that I slept a lot that day and when I woke up, darkness coloured the sky .

I can’t describe that day because everything was tasteless and odorless. No, maybe everything had a taste and smell, but my senses don’t want to know anything.

Three days passed,. During those days i had many calls from Hamid as he told me about the route from Greece to Albania and tabout the soldiers guarding the Albanian border for fear of refugees. He told me about the water flowing in the rivers and crossing the land and borders without a travel document or visa and those birds that do not build factories and do not study medicine or engineering, informatics, philosophy and physics and yet roam the skies in freedom without the need for papers. Why is that fundamental right on earth only denied to (some) humans ? Especailly those who for so many reasons cannot stay in their homes?

After a week living on the streets in Albania keeping away from the police, Hamid reached the border with Montenegro. It was very hard. He had to walk two days. The weather in the border mountains was cold with snow and lots of rain. They slept outside with snow for a bed and rain as a blanket for their bodies.

Everything around him was harsh . He told me ‘I heard my heart beats calling me and shouting “enough enough”. I am so tired. I want to give up . The cold is too harsh , I can’t bear it anymore. I felt that my bones had frozen, I could not answer my heart because my mouth was frozen too and my tongue did not want to move. It was fear of the cold, and I screamed inside me “my God if you exist take me to you quickly maybe i can be warm and safe again “ That was everything he remembered before he lost consciousness.

The next morning Hamid and his friends woke up when the sun shine painted their bodies ,carrying with it warmth which entered their bones and veins and awakened their blood cells and ordered them to work.

Hamid arrived in Montenegro and the joy of victory accompanied him. He had escaped death and the police. This was the most beautiful victory of an oppressed bird.

One night I was sitting in my big room with my tears hugging me. I felt that Hamid was in danger. I tried to call him several times but he did not answer and the fear grew in my heart. I wrote him a travel poem with my pen that holds ink from my tears and blood and I told him .. .…

You, absent one, whose heart beats through my veins

Tell me – where are you, where did my tears fall?

Relieve me from this, my chest tightening, my ribs cracking.

Only my heart has escaped the tormentor.

Fleeing without wings or the will to return,

It has left me alone in my room,

to be wrestled into submission in my bed

Where are you?

Tell me frankly, without fear of my pains, my tears.

Or take me to you, lost here in the dark wilderness of deceit.

Send me your voice as thunder dragging over the foothills

And please, silence the voice of that brazen bird

who flirts daily with his false song through my window

telling me of spring, of the blossoms flowering like

a noose around my neck.

It squawks as it approaches to caress my face

alarming my innocent cat.

I do not want to hear its voice, unaccompanied by the melody

of your own.

And I do not want my bed without you, my cod and numb bed.

Can you see that picture on the wall?

It weeps daily, without knowing its tears erase

the words of reproach and guilt and longing.

I am afraid.

I am very afraid – do you hear my heartbeat accelerating?

and the tremor of my hands that pound my chest,

my feet which strike the ground like a barren tree?

Oh, despair, mine and yours

Despair that has only heightened my longing

Despair that has banished the day while the night too flees.

Speak to me, my love – tell me about the stars above your path

and about that liar, the moon.

Don’t be silent.

Tell me about the mountains long your route – are there really

wolves in their shadows?

And about the people of the prairie – do they really sleep in fog’s embrace?

Tell me about the road, about the flowers – are there really

tusks concealed in their leaves?

and about the grass that turned red

was it from the blood of the exiles that fed the soil?

And my god, tell me what has happened to your long, midnight beard?

Was it really turned white by the spite of the world?

Tell me about your body, about your youth, the beauty of your face and robes

did they really became the prey of bandits?

Tell me about your desire, about your lust – or has it too

become a currency with which you feed yourself?

Curse those people and their alien rituals

Curse the clouds that rain only filth

Curse the land sprouting tainted seeds

I am here, can’t you hear my voice?

Tell me, I am begging you – which way does the road to you lie?

And which faith will allow me to bow down at your feet?

Tell me – who am I in your absence? And who are those at your side?

Is my name still inked on your chest? Is it still the spell in your eyes?

I want nothing more.

I have no more power, to drag love from the touch of your palms

Come to me in a blink of an eye or take me to you at a glance

Or be certain – I am flesh, the worn residue of a heart,

of sallow skin and spent organs

a faded pulse

I am he whose shadow sleeps behind the sun

And the title of all the sad poems will take his name.

Saad Abdullah

Nea Kavala Camp: Hell in Northern Greece

Leaving Lesbos for Nea Kavala ” Sept 2nd 2019 Ekathimerini photo

I  cried when I heard that the Greek government said  that it is going to send 1000 refugees from Moiria camp on Lesbos to Nea Kavala on the mainland. They want to relieve the pressure on the camp with all its new arrivals. I heard that the refugees to be moved were all seen as ‘vulnerable’.

I want to shout out “Don’t Go”, “please don’t go”.

I was a ‘vulnerable’refugee on Samos and In March this year I was moved to the mainland with over 300 refugees from Samos. I was sent to the Nea Kavala Camp.  I lived there for 4 months.

It is HELL.


It is SHIT

If I had known what was waiting in this desolate camp in northern Greece I would not have moved. They would have had to carry me there by force. But I knew nothing of this camp. They told me nothing. They never asked me if I wanted to move.

When you are held on the islands like Samos you get the idea that the mainland is a better place to be. They say this a lot on Samos. The mainland has better resources and facilities than the island. This is what we hear.

As I quickly learned THIS IS NOT TRUE AT ALL. And yes, I want to shout this out. Please listen.

Nea Kavala Camp is one of hell’s chosen spots in Greece. And to think that this government sees it as a suitable place for vulnerable refugees shows to me how much it must hate us. Nobody should be expected to stay there.

Shock! All of us from Samos were shocked by what we found there. It was so unbelievable. In just a few days many I traveled with left the camp, disappearing in the night to try and find a better place to stay in Thessaloniki or Athens. They had nowhere to go to. Most had little money. But they wouldn’t stay.

An old photo but shows lack of shelter

First, Nea Kavala Camp is an old military airfield. It is in flat and boring countryside. There are no trees. It is isolated. It is at least a 20 minute walk to the nearest shop. The nearest village is a 40 minute walk . What you see are lines of tents and cabins with no shade and no protection.

I was in my own room in Samos town. I shared a bathroom and a kitchen. It had a washing machine. It had electricity. It had wi fi.

In Nea Kavala I was given a tent. On my own which was something ok. But no bed, no electricity, no reliable wi fi, no personal security ( my tent was robbed 4 times of food and clothes). Now I faced long queues for the toilet, for the shower and days waiting to wash my clothes. Because I was given the tent and food my monthly allowance was cut

my tent

from 150 to 90 euros. The food from the army was disgusting. I couldn’t eat it or face the queues and stress in getting the food so lived for most of the time on croissants, bananas and milk from the supermarket.

Of course I had to stop my Greek classes on Samos. But in Nea Kavala there was NOTHING like that. None of the people responsible for the camp stayed at Nea Kavala. Even the Camp Manager who I got to know only came for a few hours a day. She told me she was frightened by the place. The only people there all the time were some soldiers involved with the meals and some police. The police could not be bothered with  us. I reported my thefts each time to be told to go away. They were always rude and aggressive.

Nea Kavala is in the north of Greece near the border with Macedonia. It has long and cold winters. In the first few weeks it was  very cold at night and we had a lot of rain. On the second night an old woman in the next tent died and I am sure the cold finished her life. We had just one blanket each. Over Easter the sewage system broke and I found a river of sewage flowing past my tent. It took days to repair because of the holidays.

Then came the summer. We cooked in our tents. No shade. No where to get cool. Torture.

This is where they are sending over a thousand vulnerable refugees. There will be many children and older people. Their tents are waiting!

I am sure that there are other mainland camps just as bad. I just know Nea Kavala. It is not a place for human beings. The refugees being moved there must be told. The world must be told. When you now hear that refugees are being moved from the islands to the mainland don’t assume that they are going to a better place. Listen to us! Don’t stand by in silence. Please.


Abshir, (Somalian, 26 years old)


They have arrived now. See

Migrants deplore conditions in new Greek camp


“We left Moria hoping for something better,” said Sazan, a 20-year-old Afghan, referring to the main camp on Lesbos.

“And in the end, it’s worse.”