At a time that Turkey attacks Northern Syria and thousands of people flee to save their lives, the situation on the Aegean islands where thousands of people are trapped as a result of the toxic EU-Turkey “deal” has become once more unsustainable. The “hotspot“ model and the “deal” have essentially collapsed. Meanwhile, the Greek government’s plans on decongesting the islands, are progressing slowly and do not appear to resolve the situation. Also, refugee camps and other accommodation in the mainland are near full capacity. Unless, EU Member States show solidarity and strengthen relocation and more steps are taken for the urgent creation of adequate accommodation in the mainland by the Greek authorities, this crisis will continue and more lives will be at risk.
On Monday night, 14 October 2019, a fire broke out in Vathy hotspot on the island of Samos and hundreds of refugees had to flee the camp in order to escape from danger. The fire destroyed a large part of Vathy hotspot including tents and prefabs. According to Doctors without Borders, around 600 people who had nowhere to go following the fire, were hosted by local NGOs in various buildings on the island.
A young asylum-seekers from the Horn of Africa who slept in a tent in the fields around the camp told Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) of the danger he faced:
“I was sleeping when the fire broke out and I just managed to get out of (my tent) and save myself. Everything was destroyed, my tent, my clothes, my blanket. I have nowhere to go. There are many people who face a similar situation. They sleep in the streets and in parks”.
Meanwhile, the local authorities requested the Government to immediately decongest the island as many asylum-seekers have nowhere to stay. Τhey stated that the number of Vathy town residents were 7.000 and the number of refugees on the island were 5.700. This is the second dangerous fire in a refugee camp on the islands within a few weeks. On 29 September 2019, a deadly blaze in Moria camp on Lesvos claimed the life of an Afghan female refugee.
News reports said that the fire broke out initially outside the hotspot and then spread inside. Prior to that, violence had erupted between different nationalities of refugees. A criminal investigation into the causes of the fire has started. Further, in a statement issued on 15 October 2019, Greek Police said that seven individuals were arrested and accused of affray and participation in the clashes that took placed inside Vathy hotspot and two of them for attempted homicide and use of sharp objects. An additional four were accused of participation in the clashes and one for arson.
Vathy hotspot has been severely overcrowded for years and according to recent official statistics, there are 5.851 people living there while its capacity is for 648 people. A large part of the camp’s population stays in agricultural land around the camp without access to heating, water or toilets, queueing for hours to get a meal and is forced to makeshift constructions to protect their tents from the worsening weather conditions. At the same time, xenophobia has risen on the island since the implementation of the “deal”.
On Lesvos, nearly 14.000 individuals are stranded in Moria hotspot while its capacity is for over 2.800. Lack of any type of accommodation and insecurity prevail, whilst in recent days, refugees are forced to sleep inside the pre-fabs that were burnt in the recent fire in order to protect themselves from the weather.
It is disconcerting that there are more than 33.000 refugees and migrants currently trapped in the islands of North East Aegean and the government’s announced plans to proceed with decongesting the islands do
The Hotspots on Samos and Lesvos are the scar in Europe’s values. Instead of being places of identification and first reception for refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek islands, they have become a synonym to hellish and dangerous conditions for thousands of people fleeing war and conflict.
Τhe Greek authorities, other EU Member States and EU institutions should change their perception that the inhuman conditions in the Aegean hotspots are a ‘deterrence tool’ as they place more vulnerable lives in danger. The cause of the uncontrolled situation on the islands is solely the insistence on implementing the EU-Turkey “deal”.
RSA calls for the EU Member States to end the toxic “deal”, show solidarity by halting Dublin returns to Greece and strengthen relocation. Meanwhile, immediate decongestion of the hotspots and creation of more adequate accommodation places in the mainland seem the only feasible way at the moment to ease this crisis.