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Refugee crisis Impressions from the Greek island of Samos

Swiss volunteers at one of the refugee camps for the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who have flooded Greece’s Aegean islands say they believe Greek authorities with the backing of the West are violating some refugees’ human rights.

At a camp on the Greek island of Samos, in the eastern Aegean Sea, Eliane Apostolou said she feels outraged by some of the things going on but is powerless to stop it.

“What we’re seeing here is human rights being blatantly violated,” the 53-year-old from Bern, who has lived on the island for 22 years, told

“The West shares the responsibility for the refugees’ misery and suffering. So long as EU and NATO countries export arms and drop bombs, we are accomplices.”

Another volunteer, Patricia Ponte Pérez, described feeling appalled by the refugees’ precarious situation. The 19-year-old from canton Aargau left her job in February to join other volunteers from around the world trying to help in Samos.

“At the port we gave dry clothes and shoes to refugees who had just arrived and who were soaked – that was really stressful,”she said. “We played with the kids, danced, took them to our hearts. It’s good when the small ones are distracted and the parents are unburdened for a while.”

Like a prison

Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that thousands of migrants and asylum seekers on Greece’s Aegean islands faced awful conditions as the humanitarian crisis for people reaching the islands by the sea intensified. It said debt-stricken Greece was unable to meet its most basic obligations towards the people who arrived there and were mostly fleeing violence and repression.

In recent weeks, the situation at Samos dramatically worsened due to a new pact between the European Union and Turkey. New arrivals must be registered and brought to a reception centre, surrounded by barbed wire. They cannot leave.

Before then, the camp's inhabitants, who appear to number in the hundreds, had been able to move freely, according to one Pakistani refugee who complained that now “we’re locked up as though we’re in prison”. The police would not give exact figures on how many reside at the camp.

The military and the police handle supplies in the reception centre in the island’s capital Vathy, so that the volunteers are left with little to do. Many have already left. “I’m going to stay for the time being,” said Ponte Pérez. “I want to know what’s going to happen to the refugees and if possible help out.”

(Text and images: Gaby Ochsenbein. Adapted from German by Thomas Stephens)

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