A NEW REPORT from the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Oxfam sheds light on the inside of the new €43 million migration centre on the Greek island of Samos.

The report comes ahead of the six-year anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, and in the midst of already more than a million people fleeing conflict in Ukraine to seek asylum in EU countries. Oxfam says, “If ever there was a time to learn from the failures made in Greece, it is now.”

The report found that:

  • Approximately one in five people have been in de facto detention for two months. This is despite a Greek court finding this practice illegal in the ruling on a case of an Afghan resident in the Samos centre last December. The Greek administration continues to deny this illegal practice. Yet testimonies gathered by the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam show this practice remains very much a reality.
  • The use of ‘revenge tactics’ in response to NGO reports, media coverage, and legal action by asylum seekers on illegal detention measures. This has included early morning raids, unexplained transfers to the police station, and oral eviction notices to residents appealing a negative asylum decision.
  • The excessive use of security. There is constant CCTV monitoring of all residents and an 8pm curfew. To exit and enter the camp, residents need an ‘asylum applicant’ card. Some people, such as the newly arrived, those who can’t afford the second subsequent asylum application fee, or those waiting for the Greek authorities to examine their subsequent asylum application, do not have this card. In the future, not having these cards may keep people from getting food and clothes.

Testimony from T, a young Afghan man, trapped on Samos since 2019: “I just want to go outside. They don’t let me. They are keeping me here as a prisoner. If I had to choose, I would say that I would prefer the previous camp – at least, there, I was free. I was not living in a cage. At least, I had my freedom to go somewhere.”

This reception centre in Samos will serve as the blueprint for the EU’s rollout of centres across the Greek islands. Costing the EU €276 million, they are a “new chapter in migration management” according to EU officials, and have the explicit aim to “discourage them from coming in the first place”, according to the Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum. The EU has already invested in building two new centres on the islands of Kos and Leros and have plans to build two new centres on Chios and Lesvos.

Alkistis Agrafioti, Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees, said: “Going to the centre, you have only one question: how is this suitable for people? It feels like visiting a prison located in the middle of nowhere. To enter and exit, people must go through a whole array of security measures with turnstiles, magnetic gates, x-rays, scanning cards and fingerprints. Body and bag searches as well. According to testimonies, even children going to school do not escape this daily procedure.

“What we saw when visiting the new Samos centre and what people told us is that their previous degrading living conditions at the old Vathy camp just turned into prison like conditions in the new facility. The security guards are all over and you feel followed at every step. One resident we talked to told us how it felt like there were three security guards to one person. We met with an Afghan young man, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, that has turned to self-harm several times as he is trapped on the island for the last three years. For two months, he could not even exit the new facility due to an illegal exit ban. Many asked ‘what are we being punished for, when all we want is to rebuild our lives and be safe in Europe?’”

Stephanie Pope, Oxfam EU migration expert said: “Over half a million people have already crossed Ukraine’s border fleeing a conflict that, according to the UN, could displace 4 million Ukrainians. Now more than ever, the EU must show their lessons learned from its migration response in Greece. As countries bordering Ukraine are receiving most asylum seekers, we cannot risk a repetition of another scraped together European response. The EU and all governments must come together and share collective responsibility to ensure the right of all people to find a safe refuge.

“This month marks six years since the EU-Turkey deal. And yet, what has the EU done? There is no agreement on migration and asylum rules. The decisions the EU does take, such as this one on closed centres, are taken with little thought to the people they will affect. The EU is hellbent on following its policy of deterrence, a policy that promotes ‘prison’ like conditions, de facto detention and human rights violations. This is not normal, nor is it necessary.

“Alternatives exist. The EU should invest in accommodation that fosters integration and allows people to prosper. It should not be located on the fringes of society, but instead, allow people to take part in daily life and have access to basic services like going to the doctor.”

* Read the report here.

* Source: Oxfam International