Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

Opinion

Refugees in limbo on Greek island

  • Local authorities have begun dismantling of Souda, the open refugee camp in Chios' main town. (Photo: Mustafa Jado)

Since the beginning of August, over 550 refugees have made the crossing to the Greek island of Chios, including nearly 200 children.

These new arrivals alone make up nearly half the official capacity of the entire island.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The closed Vial refugee camp on Chios is used for conducting interviews to determine who has the right to seek asylum in Greece. (Photo: Ludek Stavinoha)

As they arrived, local authorities have simultaneously begun the long-awaited plan of dismantling Souda, the open refugee camp in the island's main town.

The majority of the island's refugee population will soon be confined to Vial, an overcrowded, abandoned aluminium factory, where volunteers are denied access to offer help, let alone to document the atrocious living conditions in what the EU considers a suitable 'reception facility'.

On Chios, the state of limbo that exists in these camps is usually the most prominent topic of discussion.

Some refugees have waited over a year on the island and still don't know whether they will ever be allowed to proceed with their journey to the mainland or returned to Turkey.

Camps are dehumanising by design, devoid of features even remotely reminiscent of a home. Those who were forced to flee their own homes, in the hope of creating a new one, are repeatedly reminded of their inability to do so.

Worse still are the camps surrounded by barbed wire, managed by army personnel and where shipping containers are used as shelters.

These are the camps that last year's EU-Turkey deal, which aimed to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, has created.

The Vial camp on Chios is used for conducting interviews to determine who has the right to seek asylum in Greece, as well as acting as a shelter for an official capacity of around 1,200 people. However, the realities of the situation mean that unofficial camps have remained, too.

Fewer than 300 people now remain in the open Souda camp - down from almost a thousand a few months ago, when tents sprawled all the way to the sea. (Photo: Mustafa Jado)

In recent weeks, authorities began emptying the Souda camp - clearing tents and containers, transferring some refugees to Athens and moving others to Vial. Fewer than 300 people now remain - down from almost a thousand a few months ago, when tents sprawled all the way to the sea.

The response of camp inhabitants, so far, has been undramatic, which is reflective of the atmosphere of increasing despair and fear.

Human rights abuses, police brutality and procedures - which, for some, last well over a year - have left people fearful and discouraged.

Some have completely abandoned the camp to sleep in parks or houses of friends. They are afraid that the displacement will be used as an opportunity to round up those in the final stage of their asylum appeal process, which in many cases means they can be detained in cells.

"We will not go to Vial," declared a group of young men whose mental state I have watched decline since they became trapped on the island nearly a year ago. They then laughed and started dancing to music that blared from their friend's tent.

For them, anger and despair have culminated in moments like these - of short-lived hysteria. It can also lead to brutal acts of self-harm, with one of them sporting knife wounds all over his lower leg, or violence.

However, the scene does reflect the hints of freedom that exist in the open surroundings of Souda, which is more quaint and small. Many people have chosen to live here instead of Vial.

Locked away behind the fences of the closed Vial camp, volunteers are not able to identify and support the most vulnerable refugees. (Photo: Ludek Stavinoha)

A few metres away, a group of Palestinians drinking tea were discussing the impending closure. A young boy - also covered in self-inflicted cuts on his arms - waved his hands in disbelief: "We are Palestinian. Go from Palestine, go from Syria, go from Turkey, go from Souda, go from everywhere. Where are we supposed to go?"

A woman walking by sighed, "there is no space in Vial, where are we supposed to live?" Her friend who already lives in Vial agreed. Exasperated and sadly used to such treatment, she continued with her daily chores.

Thus far, due to Souda being an open camp, volunteers have been able to identify and support the most vulnerable refugees, as the authorities and humanitarian organisations have failed time and time again.

It has by no means been a safe or sustainable situation, but it has been one that is open to witnesses.

Some of the people whose voices appear in this article have become friends and others have been able to ask for our help - but all have suffered terribly due to their circumstances.

Had they been locked away behind the fences of Vial, we would have known of their existence, but not who they are - neither of their history or struggles.

We would not have been able to listen, to stand in solidarity with them, or do them the justice of documenting their experiences here.

As expected, this week a number of new arrivals - who were barred from the Souda camp and were instead sent to the over-crowded, prison-like Vial camp - were found sleeping in the park. This included many children.

Izzy Tomico Ellis is an independent volunteer on Chios and has been on the island since December 2015.

Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, close to the Turkish coast.

Managing migration: a European responsibility

"The EU now needs to bring its weight to bear, to ensure non-EU countries cooperate on taking back their nationals arriving as economic migrants", writes migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Asylum seekers create EU 'limbo' nation

The number of asylum seekers "in limbo" in the EU is likely to be greater than the combined populations of Cyprus and Malta, estimates indicate.

The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik

If, as the EU claims, the Eastern Partnership summit is not a format for conflict resolution, where else will the security issues that hold the region back be resolved?

EU must confront Poland and Hungary

Curtailing NGOs and threatening judicial independence are the hallmarks of developing-world dictators and authoritarian strongmen, not a free and pluralistic European Union.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

News in Brief

  1. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  2. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  3. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers
  4. French banks close Le Pen accounts
  5. Commission relaxes rules on labelling free range eggs
  6. Commission issues €34m fine over car equipment cartel
  7. Estonian presidency 'delighted' with emissions trading vote
  8. Mladic found guilty of genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  2. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  3. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  4. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes
  5. Uber may face fines in EU for keeping data breach secret
  6. EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says
  7. The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik
  8. Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened