Silence and inaction is no longer an option when it comes to the Detention Centre on Samos. As we recently wrote the camp is overwhelmed. The only thing that ‘works’ are the fences caging over 600 refugees in a camp built for around 250.
These are some of the things we have discovered over the past 3 days:
a) The camp has endured water shortages and irregular supplies for weeks now. It is still not mended. There is not enough drinking water let alone water for showers and toilets. The camp is now a disaster area when it comes to the health of the refugees. The overcrowding; the lack of basic hygiene especially when it comes to water are creating conditions which threaten a health catastrophe.
b) The resident camp doctor is described by many refugees as heroic in his attempts to meet their needs oand to keep them safe. His attempts to get the relevant state authorities to intervene are constantly frustrated. New arrivals now commonly wait 10 days before they receive any kind of medical check. There is a deepening fear that conditions in the camp make it very vulnerable to an Ebola outbreak.
c) There are not enough beds. Many sleep outside on piles of carpets. There are no sleeping bags. That fund has dried up.
d) There are unaccompanied minors in the camp. They should not be there at all. They are not safe in the camp. There is no provision for them. There are now specialist centres in Greece for unaccompanied children. But the children in the Samos camp rarely get to them for the simple reason there is no budget to pay for their fares. Places are offered but not taken.
e) The authorities have taken no initiative to create safe and appropriate places outside of the camp for unaccompanied children as well as families.
f) The police and other workers in the camp are being pushed to their limits. Stress levels amongst the guards leads to tensions. Funding ministries and agencies are not just ineffective but irresponsible in their inaction. We learnt that workers at the camp regularly used their own money to meet some of the unmet but basic needs.
All of this is happening now as we write this piece. Today, there are over 600 people crowded in a caged camp on an unshaded hill side. More are coming every week. It is a cauldron. Stress levels are high. People go without sufficient food (some prefer not to eat rather than wait in the sun for hours). Hygiene conditions are chronic and worsening. As one Syrian who has just left the camp told us, “We knew about how badly Greece treats refugees before we came. We didn’t expect the Ritz. But the camp. It was unbelievable to be treated like this.”
The world of the camp is kept hidden, from the people of Samos, of Greece, Europe and the world. This is what the authorities want. The costs of wrong headed policies falls heavily on the refugees. They pay dearly for the resulting barbarism.
The authorities and the mainstream media try to keep the camp invisible. Its remote position despite being close to the centre of Samos town is but just one indicator of this policy. But there is also the total silence about the chaos and problems in the camp. We hear nothing about the water shortages; the breakdown in hygiene and medical care. It goes without saying that we hear none of the voices of the refugees. We hear no explanations for why no preparations were made when it was clear to all those working with refugees that the flow to Samos would increase once the land border in Evros was effectively sealed.
Keep the light away. The camp is a vivid symbol of failure.
This approach has to change. For the refugees in the camp and in the name of humanity, an emergency has to be declared now. The refugees cannot wait for the ministries to sort out their responsibilities or for the EU to change its policies.
Problems such as the water supply could be sorted out immediately if the camp authorities on Samos declared an emergency and asked for the help of the people. The workers for example who installed the water system are still on Samos and we know they are prepared to help. Then there are the many skills and talents of the refugees themselves. But we don’t give them a chance to use them.
We also know that there are families on the island who would be very happy to care for unaccompanied children and the families in the camp.
There are also many places on the island which could accommodate the refugees at little cost. There is absolutely no reason for there to be such intensive overcrowding.
There are health and social workers living here who are also ready to help. Just this week for example, a dentist in Karlovassi asked us to tell refugees that she would treat them for free.
As we have discovered, islanders are generous to our appeals for clothes and shoes. It would not be difficult to create a system of collection points across the island to take this further.
The humanitarian crisis at the Detention Centre demands this kind of response. There are solutions which could make an immediate difference. We and many like us want to help. Let us!
Working together will lift the silence and bring in some light. Keeping the focus on the immediate needs of the refugees and acting together will do more than a thousand meetings. It is not the only way forward but at this time we cannot see an alternative unless we are prepared for the horrors of the camp to worsen with all that will follow.
August 23rd 2014