[10.01.2022, 14:00 CET]
For Immediate Release
Just four months after the opening of a controversial new refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos, residents of the new ‘closed and controlled’ centre have written an open letter detailing the appalling conditions inside. Despite assurances from the Greek and EU authorities that the multi million euro facility would improve living standards for people seeking asylum, the letter’s authors liken the camp to “Guantanamo” and describe themselves as being “treated as a prisoner is treated in every sense of the word.”
The anonymous authors of the letter have spent several months living in the new closed centre, which is in an isolated hill area far from any town or services. Having already survived two years in a now abandoned former camp on the island, the letter’s authors have no idea how long they will be kept in de facto detention in the new facility, and have shared their letter with volunteers in the hope of bringing attention to their plight. Describing the dehumanising and discriminatory nature of their treatment, the letter asks if camp residents are guilty because they “belong to an identity that [they] do not have the decision to change.” Their “dreams, goals and capabilities” are being “shattered...with each new day [they] live in these camps.”
Highlighting the recent murder of three Syrian men by a Turkish citizen, the letter also challenges Greece’s decision to declare Turkey a safe third country for asylum seekers from Syria and four other nationalities. Following a Joint Ministerial Decision published by the Greek government in June 2021, Greece has been stepping up the pressure for Turkey to start accepting returns, but as the letter clearly states “Turkey is not a safe country for the Syrians.”
The letter describes the suspected racist attack as a killing in “cold blood,” with the victims “burned [in] their room while they were sleeping.” The deaths of Mamoun al-Nabhan, 23, Ahmed al-Ali, 21, and Mohammed al-Bish, 17, comes as human rights groups in Turkey report the increased weaponisation of refugees by politicians and a growing hostility to Syrians amongst sections of the Turkish public. The letter points out that people would not have risked their lives in “death boats” crossing the Mediterranean if they were safe in Turkey, and asks why the Greek asylum service fails to take this into account.
Cecilia Sanfelici, Aegean Advocacy Coordinator at Europe Must Act, has been coordinating an ongoing project working with camp residents to collect evidence of conditions in the Samos facility. “This letter echoes many of the statements we have gathered from people forced to live in this camp. Despite having a legal and fundamental right to claim asylum, people are being treated like criminals by the Greek government and effectively detained against their will. Amongst the many concerns documented in our latest report, camp residents report a lack of medical services, cold, wet and overcrowded accommodation, inedible food, a complete lack of privacy and constant surveillance. And all of this is happening on the EU’s watch, using EU funds.”
The Greek government’s continued efforts to return people have faced barriers from Turkey, which since March 2020 has refused to accept any transfers. As a result, hundreds of people are stuck in limbo in Greece, including residents of the Samos camp. “We want to work, we want to help the country in which we live and contribute to paying taxes,” the authors explain, but instead “[we] spend our lives in displacement and prisons.”
NGOs supporting residents in the camp have made repeated complaints to the Greek and EU authorities about the conditions in the Samos facility, which have so far gone unheeded. Despite accusations of human rights abuses by observers and the testimonies of residents, Greece is pressing ahead with the opening and construction of four more EU-funded closed facilities on other Aegean islands.
Notes for Editors
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.
Christian Schmidt, Press Coordinator, Europe Must Act
The full text of the letter can be found here: