[19.07.2021, 18:00 CET]
For Immediate Release
Samos has, for many years, been viewed as an ‘emergency’ situation. As the number of people ‘housed’ in the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) on the island, built to shelter 648 residents, rose dramatically in 2019 and 2020 the conditions continued to get worse. Refugees and asylum seekers witnessed increased waiting times for food (up to 5 hours), water shortages, and mental and physical health problems.
Dr Gemma Bird (University of Liverpool) of Project Armonia and author of the report says: “One of the key demands we want to communicate with this report is access to healthy, nutritious food that reminds people of their home and countries, their experiences. The fact that ‘people are humans and deserve to be considered’ in the food that is provided to them and not simply have their choices ignored. It cannot be the role of NGOs to fill this gap but the approaches used by Project Armonia should be used as a framework for food provision in EU funded shelters.”
In 2021, the picture is somewhat different, with a 72% fall in the number of displaced people housed in the RIC and surrounding 'Jungle' area, with a continued reduction as spring progresses into summer. Even though the Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi suggests that the reduced number of people housed across all five island ‘hotspots’ is a sign that the country is ‘working in the right direction’, in particular because it is ‘easing the burden of immigration on local communities’, this focus on numbers does not tell the real story. The real story that is faced either by displaced people who remain stuck on these islands or the communities whose lives run in parallel. There is more to these islands than a story that can ever be told through numbers alone.
Community Volunteers at Project Armonia say:
“Food goes beyond barriers, it is a way of communication.”
“In the camp people are treated like animals. In Armonia you talk to people, you laugh with people, it's different. People are humans and deserve to be considered.”
Displaced people, the local community and NGO workers say they are ‘very tired’, tired of the situation, tired of the waiting, tired of the lack of information and transparency. They are also tired of knowing that the proposed solution, the closure of the Vathi RIC and opening of a new ‘housing’ structure (MPRIC), two hours away from the support of the Vathi town, will not solve the problem. The situation here may no longer be viewed as an ‘emergency’ but it remains difficult for the people living here for a number of different reasons.
Jessica Nichols, co-founder of Project Armonia says: “If people were struggling with poor nutrition for only a few weeks that would be bad enough. However, once people find themselves stuck in these spaces for years, awaiting asylum, the effects of poor nutrition start to show in people’s physical and mental health.”
This report shares human stories, rather than numbers and in doing so we advocate for the following policy changes:
For access to healthy, nutritious food that recognises the cultural and individual role food plays in people’s everyday lives.
For the need to improve communication channels on the island. For open, honest communication that reduces fear and uncertainty rather than increases it.
For a system that listens to people and treats them with dignity and respect.
For a system of genuine solidarity on an EU level that does not just send money to EU border states but supports a system of integration for displaced people, focussing on access to education, healthcare and community support.
For access to skills development and education to support people in their next steps after being granted asylum.
For a focus on community building and integration, on bringing people together rather than dividing them.
Europe Must Act (EMA) is a growing grassroots movement, bringing together volunteers and NGOs to campaign for the humane, dignified and legal reception of refugees in Europe. EMA was established in March 2020 by a group of volunteers on the Greek Aegean islands of Chios and Samos in response to the ever-worsening situation of the hotspot camps. For more information about EMA, please visit www.europemustact.org/about-us.
Further comments available.
Ruth Heylin, Press Spokesperson Europe Must Act
Christian Schmidt, Press Coordinator Europe Must Act
Dr Gemma Bird (University of Liverpool), Project Armonia
Credits: Cover Image, Project Armonia