Sunday

24th Jun 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • 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.

Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

There is not a single European company among the world's top 10 computer hardware companies. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden rank among world leaders, but Bulgaria and Slovakia among the worst-performing developed nations.

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  2. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  3. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  4. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  5. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  6. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  7. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit
  8. Bavaria hijacks EU migration talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us