Monthly Archives: October 2017

Responding to Hysteria

Recently on Samos we have been experiencing one of those periodic spasms of anti-refugee sentiment. These spasms feel orchestrated and even if not coordinated involve a diverse range of actors. This particular spasm has been sparked by both the high number of new arrivals especially in September and the lack of any preparation to meet the autumn weather. All the refugee authorities use these moments to demand additional resources and powers; local business interests demand VAT reductions and other economic interventions because as ‘we all know’ the refugees have been devastating for tourism, the Mayor calls for meetings with government ministers and on it goes. And at the same time beyond Samos, we see the head of UNCHR warning of the calamity unfolding on the frontier islands as winter approaches as well as other reports highlighting the agony of the refugees on the islands. Add to this mix, Samos SOS, an anti-refugee group which has been intermittently active for many years and which relishes moments such as these as a means of mobilizing support.

Over the past few months Samos SOS has been taking its message of cleaning the island of refugees because of the threat they pose to the essential way of life on Samos out to the villages and small towns and not just simply staying in Samos town. It is necessary to understand that the refugees on Samos are located in just one small part of the island around the main town. Leave the town and it is rare to see any refugee. In the overwhelming part of Samos the refugees have no presence at all. Sadly it seems, Samos SOS have had some success in whipping up anti-refugee sentiment in places with no contact or awareness of the refugees.

Even so a major problem remains for Samos SOS namely that there is simply no evidence to support their hysterical claims such that Samos is in danger of being ‘islamicized’ or on the brink of widespread social unrest. It is a joke. Even in those villages where Samos SOS succeeded in gaining support it would be highly unlikely that any felt that their way of life was under threat or that they were about to become Muslim. Moreover, walk any day around Samos town and you will see refugees and locals go about their business in utter peace. The refugees don’t walk around as though they are in imminent danger neither does anyone else. You can even eat felafel in the main square now!

Samos SOS never acknowledges that the ‘refugee business’ is now probably the biggest single economic activity on the island sustaining in Samos town a diverse collection of hotels, bars, eating places, local mini markets, hire car companies, apartment rentals and so forth. Unlike tourism which lasts for 5 months in the year refugee monies flow throughout the year.

But this has not stopped Samos SOS which recently held a high profile public meeting in the central square of Samos town on Sunday October 22nd. From the photographs published a fair number of refugees were also present. Like Samos SOS they would love to leave the island at the earliest opportunity.

Samos SOS Meeting 22.10.2017 photo from My Samos Blog

One consequence of the meeting has been the publication of an Appeal to the islanders by a group of 23 ex mayors, prefects and councilors from across the island. This Appeal was published by My Samos Blog on October 29, 2017. Samos SOS delights in claiming that it speaks for the silent majority and that its truth is what is real. Appeals like this suggest otherwise.

We have translated it from the Greek as best we can.

An Appeal for Calmness and Soberness in Dealing with the Refugee-Immigrant Problem

Our public intervention is happening today, because we find that in the local community of Samos with the excuse of the refugee crisis, some by their actions or by their omissions are driving things to uncontrollable situations, which trouble us and in addition will discredit and tarnish our island.

The refugee-migration issue is a major international problem that, if its causes are not addressed at world and international level (wars, poverty, exploitation, authoritarian regimes, climate change) it will not stop. Greece and especially the islands of the east Aegean, places in the passage from the East to the West will always be under pressure from migratory flows, as was the case in every other century.

The Joint Statement European Union -Turkey (March 2016) to address the refugee and immigration crisis, unfortunately has not been adequately met by Turkey (which is obliged to take any necessary measures to prevent illegal immigration from its territories to the EU), but neither by most EU countries who closed their borders and failed to meet the obligations they had assumed for proportionate participation in the management of the refugees.


So the islands of the Eastern Aegean were turned into a peculiar warehouse-zone on the border of Europe which sends the message that no refugee and migrant will go to the “Promised Land”, central and northern Europe, consolidating the image of an EU of xenophobia, extreme right radicalization and racist attitudes

Within this negative climate the Greek state with its services was called upon to face unprecedented situations and showed its inability to manage the refugee migratory wave in an effective manner, both with regard to identification and asylum procedures and to infrastructure hospitality and organized temporary residence with human and dignified conditions. All this has resulted in the presence of a large number of immigrant refugees on the islands as well as their particularly troublesome and miserable living conditions inside and outside of hotspots.

In the small communities of our islands this long-term stay of such a large number of refugees
-immigrants has logically created disruption and concern, despite the high degree of understanding and solidarity, which the islanders inexorably maintain and offer.

Here in Samos, from the great lessons in solidarity and humanity that Samos men and women gave in the summer of 2015 with the supporting of more than 120 thousand refugees-immigrants who were hosted for a while on our island, we passed last autumn with a small number of arrivals but also with numerous worrying SOS voices (‘Samos clean from refugees’).

However in the last period we have an overt attempt to create another, particularly negative and, in our opinion, worrying, climate. Samos SOS exploits the ineffective management by the EU, the government and the UN, of the refugee-immigrant with the encroaching on our island of several thousand uprooted people and the general economic hardship and fears about the Islamization of Samos, with mosques and plans with controlled “Turkish” minorities when none of the refugees in question are either Turks or want to stay in Samos.

Unfortunately, Samos SOS, operating systematically by exaggeration, misinterpret intentionally or unintentionally the real problems, they construct imaginative scenarios and spread conspiracy about Islamization of the islands and their gradual occupation by foreigners and heathens, resulting in creating and enhancing a climate of insecurity for citizens of an imminent gradual loss of national territories, with our race and religion at risk. In addition to their tours and gatherings in the capital and in villages with inflammatory reasons based largely on their political delirium they create conditions of polarization and social confrontation, which sometimes go beyond the limits and become insults, abuse and even assaults against every fellow citizen who dares to express a different or opposing view.

They are the ones who consciously or unconsciously rushed to choose “partners” in the ceaseless war, which regrettably rages for a long time between the two ranks of self-government of our country. In this civil war, beyond any wisdom and rationality, instead of reconciliation, they preferred polarization, and on the pretext of the “salvation” of our island, they prepare the ground and the connections for the next elections, with the support of dishonest means and the willingness of the system. Their wages are worthy.

Instead of putting the real problems facing the society of Samos, they are targeting the hapless refugee, as the one who brings all the suffering to the island and with stale arguments cause division of our fellow citizens and tarnish the image of a place where every home has experienced and has memories of refugees and immigration.

Fellow citizens

We appeal to all of you and especially to the citizens of the capital who raise the full burden of the crisis to calmly address the situation with the humanity, the logic, the measured sense and the solidarity that characterize us over time.

The real cause of poverty and our problems is not the refugee-immigrant, who crosses Samos with a destination in Europe, but the respective government policies, imposed by the European Union and the powerful of the earth.

We call on the government and personally the Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras

For the immediate and continuous evacuation on a permanent basis of supernumerary refugees-immigrants from the islands of the eastern Aegean, under the responsibility of the competent services of the country, moving them to mainland Greece and with a final destination in accordance with European and international treaties.

For immediate and complete staffing of all necessary support structures and asylum services to ensure the dignified and healthy living of refugees-migrants (for as long as they stay on our island) and fast processing of identification and asylum requests, so as to move as soon as possible to the mainland.

For the immediate activation of a permanent inter-party committee of the Parliament, including MEPs, for management planning of the refugee-immigration issue under European and international law and UN principles, to monitor developments at local and supra-regional levels taking the necessary initiatives to further improve the existing agreements and the positive overall enlargement of the relevant institutional framework as well as for political and economic control of all bodies, public and private (NGOs etc), where they are involved in any way in this problem and its treatment.

For the freedom of our country and from war and for cooperation with all the peoples of the earth for world peace, solidarity and democracy.”

The text is signed by Apostolos Dimitrios, former president City Council of Pythagorio and 22 others.

Post Script

Coincidentally on the same day (29th October) Ekathimerini published an interview with Frans Timmermans one of the key figures in the EU Turkey Pact in which he praises the people of the frontier islands for their heroic efforts in helping refugees and yet condemns them and the refugees to remaining trapped on what are in effect prison islands.

Migrants, he said, must stay on the islands, despite the difficulties, because their transfer to the mainland would send a wrong message and create a new wave of arrivals.”

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For the Refugees Nothing is Easy: Catching the Ferry In Karlovassi

I took Saad and Hamid to Karlovassi for the Blue Star ferry to Piraeus at 1.45am yesterday. There are not so many people or cars there at this time. Immediately we entered the port area 2 young port police in black jump suits approach us and ask for our papers and tickets. They pulled us over to one side and begin to go through their ID papers and my passport. The boat arrives and starts to load. We still wait but we after 15 minutes we are now afraid of missing the boat. They won’t tell us why we are treated like this. He just walks around us speaking on his phone. The passenger gang plank is raised and we are at the bottom of the ramp as the remaining lorries board. As the last lorry approached us at the ramp a pair of legs could be seen hanging down near the wheels. The police screamed for the lorry to stop which it did and this teenage boy dropped to the ground. Thankfully not injured. At that very moment the police gave us our papers and told us we could go. Saad and Hamid scrambled up the ramp and the boat left.

I go to see 2 friends off and all three of us are treated like criminals. I suspect few passengers if any saw or took notice and yet this is going on before their eyes. And then there was the lad falling from the lorry. He could have been killed. All he wanted was to get to Athens. And as well as this, when we were first pulled over the police were with a young refugee lad maybe 14 -16 and telling him to go away that he was not getting on the ferry. All I could hear him saying is that I’ve got papers and tickets and I am going to my parents who are waiting in Athens. I don’t know what happened as they moved us away. But later I did see the lad from the lorry limping away from the port. The police did not hold him. He was alone, with no bag, summer sandals and a tee shirt. He was abandoned.

This is Samos, October 2017. Encounters like this are commonplace now at the two ports. When the ferries are due to leave the ports are alive with officials, some in uniform others in plain clothes. No two sets of uniforms look the same. Some are from Greece others from Germany, Italy and other EU states. Some are clearly special forces given all the armour and weapons they carry. Not only are the refugees physically separated from the other ‘regular’ passengers but they endure an entirely different boarding procedure where they have to prove their right to travel. Every time our refugee friends want to visit Samos from Athens this is what they have to endure. Both coming and going. It is a process saturated with suspicion on the part of the officials. There is a total absence of respect.

This is Samos. Many here choose not to see any of this.

Mahaa and Zaman

Saad Abdllah and Chris Jones, October 2017

 

Saad met Mahaa and Zaman in Athens at meetings of LGBT refugees. Their stories below are based on taped conversations which have in places been edited. Their stories, as their lives, continue to unfold in the daily uncertainties facing all the refugees in Greece today. If you would like to contact them please do so through the blog and we will pass any messages on to them.

Mahaa

Mahaa was born and grew up in Basra, Iraq. S/he is now 25 years old and a transsexual. S/he was 12 when s/he had her first sexual relationship with another boy. S/he had no words for this and talked with no one. But s/he knew that he wanted to be a girl. And that this was a big problem for his family. So as a teenager s/he did a lot of physical exercise and body building and developed an amazingly muscular body. S/he joined the army and went to the army school where s/he continued with his/her gym exercises and sports. S/he became well known for his fitness. For Mahaa this was her big defence to make sure no one saw her as a sissy and no one would think of her in this way.

She worked some of the time outside the school and held a responsible administrative job for the army based in the city. Mahaa describes this as a good time in her life as she kept her feminine side completely hidden. She liked her job, was passing her diploma exams at the army school and at the same time building a private life where she could be herself.

But this all changed dramatically when she lost her phone. She searched everywhere, at home, in the office, in the car, on the street but with no success. The following day she was back in the office when one of the other soldiers came to her desk, saluted as normal and said that her superior officer wanted to see her immediately in his office. “Even before I had finished my salute my superior was saying that he couldn’t believe it; how was it possible that I could hide myself like this?” He then showed Mahaa the photos from her phone which he had copied out on to a sheet of paper. They showed Mahaa in women’s clothes and also with her boyfriend. Some showed them kissing. Just romantic pictures. No pornography.

Mahaa was taken directly to the prison where she was held for three months. They asked many questions about how she got into the army. “They said it is not possible for gay men to pass the entrance tests and get into the army! Who helped you? Who inside looked out for you? How did you come to the office for 3 years and no one saw you. Many many questions like this. I am just normal” she told them,“I live a quiet life on my own. All the romance with my friend was in private and never in public. I had no other gay friends. No one helped me hide anything. I passed all my tests and my diploma by my own work”

After 3 months of solitary confinement Mahaa was taken to a general prison for 1 year and 1 month. They then took her to the court and told her she could go free but that she would lose everything connected with her previous work. Obviously the job was gone but all her achievements and awards were wiped from the record. “I lost everything”.

But coming out of the prison was when Mahaa’s problems really began to escalate. With nowhere to live she returned to her family who had already been informed that she was in prison. It was here that her three uncles and their sons came with knives and bars to beat her senseless in a locked room and to leave her to die. (Her father had died many years earlier which is why the uncles came.) Neither her mother nor her brothers and sisters tried to stop the beating. They just cried. But when the uncles left her terrified twin sister unlocked the room and took Mahaa out to the front of the house where she called Mahaa’s boyfriend. He came immediately and took her to a friend’s house.

These were very hard days. Mahaa was hurt (her body is full of the scars) and her family had enough money to pay for people to find and kill them both. It was only when Mahaa’s boyfriend survived an assassination attempt that they decided that they had to leave Iraq. He took her to Jordan where she stayed for 3 months. “But I was never relaxed there. Many of the people there were just like those I saw in Iraq. I didn’t feel safe and I couldn’t find work. I did not call myself a trans at this time. I didn’t know what it meant. I just knew I wanted to be a girl. But Jordan did give me the chance to get some nice clothes after all those years in prison and army uniforms”.

Mahaa then met a Jordanian gay friend who helped a lot with her hair and eyebrows as well as clothes and make up. Much of this was new to Mahaa. But this friend was clear that Jordan was not a good country for her and that she would never find safety there to live her life.

So on she moved to Lebanon for 7 months but it was very difficult for her because it was so expensive and the money she was sent by her boyfriend was not enough. “He is a very good man and he came to visit me but he is also responsible for caring for his mother so it is not easy for him to spend time away. At the supermarket near to my home in Lebanon I met a man from Iraq and as he came to know my situation he said I would be much better in Turkey and that he had some contacts who could help.

“So I left for Istanbul and for the first time in my life I met other trans people like me. It was amazing for me. I was very happy”. Mahaa stayed with her trans friend for two and a half years and she taught her much. About hormones, clothes, many things. And she introduced her to dancing and the night clubs where they could make money. “I knew nothing about dance at the beginning but now I know everything!”

Her life was again turned upside down when the Turkish police caught her with her expired visa from Lebanon. “They told me I had to leave Turkey in 2 days or I would go to jail.”

“I cried all day. I was with my friend Sona. I couldn’t go back to Iraq. I have no contact with my family. I don’t know anything about them and I don’t want to know. My family will never accept me. They never accepted me as a boy and they would never accept me now. I hate my uncles and my mother who did nothing but cry and never tried to do anything to help me.”

So now the move to Europe.

Her friend took her first to Izmir, then on to Antalya and from there by boat to the small Greek island of Castelroizo. After a few days they took her to the prison in Kos. “All this time they think that I am a girl. I was taken from the prison to a camp and put in a container with other women. I couldn’t accept this so I went to the head of the UNHCR and told them that I am not a girl but a trans. They took me immediately to the chief’s office to stay and then I was moved to a house on my own. The UNHCR were very kind to me.”

The other refugees in the camp were also kind to her when they thought she was a girl. But when they discovered she was trans many became “like animals and they wanted to kill me. The best of them just laughed at me.” When she moved out she never went back to the camp. She stayed for one month and 10 days.

With an open card she moved to Athens in July 2017.

She does not like Athens largely because the 150 euros she takes from UNHCR each month is not enough to live on. She is desperate for hormones as “I am losing my breasts” but has no money. “But no one can or will help me. I asked Prakis (NGO) and I got nothing. I think I can only help myself. There is no one else.”

“But I can’t stay here as the language is too difficult. So I am learning English. I just want to work and be comfortable as a trans. Small money and a home where I can find safety and a bed. I can’t work in sex. I can’t go back. “

She is very clear that the loss of her phone did not destroy her life. Instead it it changed her life: “I went from being an officer in the army to becoming to a trans.”

“I enjoy being a trans and I want this life for me.”

 

Zaman

Zaman is 27 years old and also comes from Basra in Iraq. Zaman grew up with his uncle, aunt, their children and his grandmother. His mother and father died when he was young. He had no brothers and sisters although he had cousins. His relationship with his uncle was often stressed but his aunt cared for him as his mother and they are still very close. His grandmother was also very good to him and he loved her.

“I knew when I was a child that I liked boys more than girls. I love boys to care for me and to love me. When I was 10 I had sex with a boy. We had no words for that; whether it was wrong or right but I knew that I loved him. I was very feminine when I was young, but not now. When I was around 12 I started to watch dancing on the tv and on the movies and I would dance on my own in my room My aunty told me that the people here would not accept boys doing this type of dancing. Around this time I met a boy who I liked who told me about making money from sex and dancing. I didn’t like this way because I wanted to continue with my classes and study. But my family especially my uncle did not accept how I was and what I wanted to do so I started to listen more to this boy. I met many people who wanted to have sex with me but I knew I had to take money for this because otherwise they would not respect me. They would say I was very cheap.”

Then someone, he does not know who, posted on the internet a video of him dancing and his uncle saw it. He was furious and “attacked me and broke my leg deliberately so I would never be able to dance again.”

“This was the worst time of my life. In the family home my uncle insisted that I should be given little of everything – food clothes. It was impossible and so I decided to move. I will have nothing to do with my uncle.” So Zaman moved in with a gay friend and began to earn money from sex and dancing. He was then able to get an apartment of his own.

His uncle eventually left his aunt and remarried. Zaman felt responsible because his aunt wanted him to come home and the uncle refused. She is always trying to support Zaman which made her husband very angry. Since the divorce Zaman sends money when he can back to his aunt.

“I liked dancing and this work gives me strength.” In the process he met many powerful people. Zaman was close with a dancer from Dubai who told him that he would do very well there. So I went and I did make good money but as a gay person in Dubai I never felt comfortable. So when I heard my sister was ill I returned to Basra.

At that time my uncle was still with my aunt and he refused to let me stay in the family house so I stayed with a gay friend and his mother. In their neighbourhoood there are many mafia people. They saw us together and they didn’t like it. But I loved him very much and these were good times for me.

Then they murdered my friend.

These killers then said it was me who was the murderer. Before they took me to the police they beat me I had no chance as they also had friends in the police and the judge was also linked to the mafia. I was raped by one of the police during the questioning.

The judge said I had 2 choices. To stay in the prison to avoid being killed by the mafia or to leave Iraq altogether.

So I left my country and went back to Dubai where life was now much more difficult for Iraqi people in UAE. So I went back to Iraq for 6 months to see my sister and then I left for Turkey.

I had a she male friend in Istanbul who took me to his house. He said to survive in Istanbul that I would have to have sex everyday. No sex no money. I then met an Iraqi man who had a night club and he said it would be better for me to live and work back in Iraq. So this is what I did. But it was very difficult as I was supposed to live outside Iraq. I was very tired by all this stress and I was very nervous about the police and what might happen if I was caught. It was also a time when my relations with my uncle were very bad.

Many of my friends said I should go to Europe and that Turkey was on the way there. The money I took from working in the night club made it possible to make the trip.

Europe

When Zaman travelled fromTurkey to the Greek island of Chios he found himself in a 6 metre boat with 80 people leaving the Turkish shore. He was terrified. “I thought we would die. But we were caught after 10 minutes and I was very happy as we would live.”

The joy was short lived as the Turkish police were violent and beat them.

Second time trying to get to Chios was a success. It was May 25th 2017.

“I was very happy to be in Europe as I have heard so many good things about it. And I was also happy because my uncle was now far away and couldn’t catch me.”

“I was happy to be in Chios. But the people I came with in the boat knew I was gay and began saying bad words about me.” UNCHR as with Mahaa responded quickly in moving Zaman into a house with his friend Toofaha who came to Chios a little while later. “I told them all that had happened to me including the rape and they helped me get out of the camp. “

Zaman was on Chios for three months before he was allowed to move to Athens. He didn’t leave Chios immediately but waited a few weeks for Toofaha to get his papers and they travelled to Athens together where they now share an apartment.

Like many refugees, his first impressions of Athens are mostly negative. The on going collapse of the Greek economy and society cannot be avoided. It is on the streets with boarded up shops and businesses and of course no jobs with pay to keep you alive. With only the 150 euro monthly allowance from the UNHCR life is difficult.

“I have found nothing here. No good job. And I don’t like people looking me when I get dressed up to go out. Do they stare because of my gayness or because I am refugee? But now I want to wear trans clothes and feel comfortable. This is not the life I want.”

Zaman feels that he is now a very high quality dancer. Wherever he has danced he has been a success and all the time improving his performance. Many people like his dancing. “I want to be a famous dancer. But I need someone to help me get started again in Europe.”

WHY?

Every year it is the same story. In October Samos receives its first serious rains of the Autumn.  The authorities are never prepared. The refugees suffer the consequences.

Here are 3 photos posted this week by MSF from the Samos Camp.

 

Reporting on a Catastrophe: Mental Health Crisis of Refugees on Samos and Lesvos

Published MSF October 2017(http://www.statewatch.org/news/2017/oct/msf-mental-health-greece-report.pdf)

 

The war and violence they fled from, and harsh conditions and violence during the journey stand out as traumatic experiences for most of our patients on the islands. Yet it is their current living conditions in Greece – the uncertainty about their futures, the threat of deportation, and the lack of access to appropriate healthcare that they emphasise during consultations as negatively affecting their mental well-being.” p.9

Protracted asylum procedures putting people at risk of violence, detention and deportation: For over a year, our psychologists on Samos and Lesvos have witnessed how a lack of clarity, repeated delays and perceived unfairness in the asylum procedure on the islands are a major source of distress for our patients. More recently, they have also seen an increase in suicidal thoughts among our patients, many of whom have received second rejections on their asylum claims. They explain that the risk they face of detention and deportation causes them huge anxiety. p10

They told us we would be safe in Europe but I don’t feel safe. I am scared that if I receive a second rejection [on my asylum claim], the police will arrest me. […] Sometimes people come back from the police station with a broken arm or leg, and with their face swollen. My friend was pushed on the floor and they stepped on his head. 31-year-old man victim of torture from Syria, Samos, September 2017 p.6

In Samos, close to a quarter (23.1%) of people surveyed had experienced violence in Greece. Half of that violence was described as beatings, 45% of which was committed by the police or army. The survey found that people who had arrived on Samos after the EU-Turkey deal reported more violence in Greece than people on the mainland who had arrived in Greece before the deal. p.6

Medicin Sans Frontieres (MSF) at least on Samos has sometimes been disappointing. In particular it was too often silent and should have used its influence and been more outspoken about the in-competencies of so many who are paid to care for the refugees. So it is refreshing to see their latest report on the mental health emergency engulfing the refugees on Lesvos and Samos. These are 2 of the islands where MSF are especially active and have had a lengthy presence.

Without pulling punches MSF lays clear that refugees are being damaged and suffering unacceptable levels of stress by the way they are being treated and cared for on the islands. It is a system that is driving people mad. Anyone with even the merest contact with refugees on the island knows that they are being driven crazy. Waiting waiting for months. Little or no information. Promises never met. Dependent on often incompetent or overwhelmed officials. No control over anything in their lives. Boredom. Each month bringing further restrictions. Fear of deportation like an ever present shadow. Housing and food not fit for animals let alone refugees. What is stunning is not so much the mental health emergency discussed by MSF but the resilience and strength of so many that enables them to get through each day. Now that is stunning.

As MSF point out 96% of the refugees on these 2 islands in 2016 and 2017 had directly experienced war and violence prior to their arrival. Yet on arriving in Europe there is no healing embrace but a system that deepens and worsens their well being. Consequently what little mental health provision there is here is simply overwhelmed. People wait between 3 and 6 months to see a psychiatrist. The hospital on Lesvos takes no new referrals. Mild conditions rapidly become more severe as treatment is delayed and the grinding daily realities of refugee life on the islands corrode well being.

It is harrowing and incredibly disempowering to see the mental health status of the asylum seekers in Lesvos progressively getting worse. We do our best to help those that we can, but the situation they are in is so horrendous. We hear of 15 suicide attempts every month in Moria – it’s an unbearable situation”. MSF psychologist, Lesvos, September 2017 p.10

It is a responsibility of any organisation or individual working in the social domain to highlight and reveal emergencies. People have a right to know where, when and how policies are failing whatever the reason. It is a responsibility which has weakened in much of Europe as privatisation and neo liberalism has wiped out so many of the public services which once dominated the social domain of health and welfare. So it is refreshing to see MSF acting in this way.

BUT

It would be wonderful to see rapid changes and improvements made in the light of this and similar reports. As this report was being published the head of the UNHCR in Greece was expressing alarm at the deteriorating conditions on the islands and the lack of preparation for the coming winter. But experience, at least on Samos, tells us that this report, like so many others before, will have no impact and that nothing will change for the better as far as the refugees are concerned.

Instead, it will join the growing number of reports on the refugees which highlight the problems and cruelties and yet lead to no change. Why is this?

Like so many reports of this kind which do try and speak truth to power, those in power often know only too well what is happening under their control. They may even find some of the critical reports useful in highlighting particular stress points that need some attention. Very high levels of self harm and suicide attracts unwanted attention for example. So it might lead to some changes but the fundamental problems remain.

And the most damaging of these is that they don’t care about refugees as fellow human beings.

This fundamental truth is evident in virtually every aspect of official refugee policy and practice in Europe today. How can care and compassion flourish in a framework dominated by containment and deterrence? Vast chunks of the so called refugee aid are now spent on surveillance technologies and systems, border hardening, air and sea patrols, and a growing array of security personnel. The mental health emergency for refugees on Samos and Lesvos is not due to a shortage of resources but how those resources are spent.

As the years pass on Samos we are increasingly coming to the view that the authorities know and accept the massive anxieties and stress their policies produce and have come to embrace it as their main strategy of control. Reinforced it should be noted by arbitrary police punishments including administrative detention. On Samos it is common for the police to enter the containers early in the morning to remove so called trouble makers to the police cells as a punishment/warning. Firas a 17 year old boy from Syria told us that he had 2 nights in the cells because he spoke back to one of the police in the camp. And on Lesvos and Samos the police have launched mass pre-emptive raids in the camps over the past year involving hundreds of police to remind everyone who has the power.

For authorities concerned not to see the camps explode into chaos, the perpetual anxieties, insecurities, and fears of the refugees compounded by their dire physical environment and sheer lack of information as to their cases, works in their favour. It significantly weakens the refugees and drains their energies making them easier to manage. The impact varies amongst the refugees depending on their individual circumstances, and some are more resilient than others. Not all are being crushed by the experience but many feel caught in an ever tightening vice.

Other processes are also at work which individualise and hide what are collective concerns. Because no one knows why some refugees get processed more slowly than others, many feel that their delays are due to something they have done or said, something! but they don’t know what. And because you don’t know you keep your focus on your case. And of course you wait and wait. Hearing nothing and going slowly mad. Not surprisingly many turn their frustrations and anger inwards hurting themselves even more.

It is fair to assume that MSF would hope that its Report will encourage change and make things better for the refugees.

But for those in and with the power to do something? We doubt it will merit much attention and is even more unlikely to bring about any significant improvement.

Without a fundamental re-orientation towards humanity and compassion there can be little hope for change. What grounds do we have to believe that those responsible for constructing and managing such a self-evidently inhumane system can ever be trusted or expected to do something different? The current system is a violation of humanity.

This too is one of MSF’s conclusions, and can be found in endless official and semi official reports and inquiries into the refugees. It will for sure feature in future reports.