At its closest point, the Greek island of Samos lies barely two kilometres off the coast of Turkey. This makes it a favoured destination of people smugglers, who recklessly overfill plastic dinghies with men, women, and children desperate enough to take the risk.
Those lucky enough to survive the journey find themselves in one of the five ‘hotspot’ camps established on five different islands by the Greek government. Since the signing of the EU-Turkey deal, which dubiously asserts that Turkey is a safe country for those fleeing conflict and persecution, they find themselves stuck.
The Samos camp opened in early 2016, a former military base with capacity for 650 people. People are forced to stay in the camp for months, some even years, by the slow and heavily bureaucratic asylum process. More people arrive every night.
Meanwhile, the living conditions in the Samos camp are atrocious. According to the UNHCR, 4,300 people were living in the camp as of December 2018. Samos Volunteers estimates that more than 1,600 individuals and families, unable to find space in the dangerously overcrowded camp, live in extremely basic conditions in the woods and olive groves adjoining it.
What started out as a crisis in 2015 has turned into a long, unending story of suffering. And those responsible for caring for and protecting these people have largely failed to rise to the task.
Sanitation and healthcare provision, especially mental health provision, is absolutely insufficient. Bedbugs and scabies are endemic. Only four toilets are reserved for the women who make up 22% of the camp’s population. Thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people, including more than 1,200 children, have access to only one doctor, one psychologist, and the seriously overwhelmed local hospital.
Finding shelter is also a struggle. In the camp itself, people sleep in dangerously overfilled containers. Those forced to stay outside the fences have next to no protection from the cold Samos rain. The high winds coming from the sea tear down flimsy tents and spread rubbish and waste. Rats, scorpions, and snakes infest the camp.
What we do
Samos Volunteers is one of a handful of NGOs present on the island. In the winter of 2016, as the Greek authorities assumed responsibility for the welfare of camp inhabitants, we saw a new need. We moved away from the daily distribution of essential items, and began to offer informal educational activities and psychosocial support. We aim to combat boredom, reduce isolation, and instil some sense of normality to the lives of those living in the camp.
Down the road from the camp, the Alpha Centre is the home of our language classes and recreational activities for adults. It’s a safe, dry, clean place for people to get away from the awful conditions up the hill. Twice a day, we go up the road to play and sing songs with children, giving them a chance to be children again. Around the corner from the Alpha Centre, our laundry station is the only place people in the camp can get their clothes cleaned and dried.
How you can help
With these and other projects, we support and empower refugees and asylum seekers during this difficult step of their hazardous, traumatic journeys. We rely on the time and dedication of an amazing group of volunteers, and the generosity of our donors.
Thank you for your support. Thank you for standing with refugees.