Greece opens first ‘closed’ camp for asylum seekers on Samos

Barbed wire, X-ray scanners and magnetic doors: On the Greek island of Samos, the new “closed” camp for migrants, the first of the “new generation” that opened on Saturday, looks at first glance like an isolated prison with a quarter of its population. Qarn is an hour’s drive from the main city.

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On a plot of more than 12,000 square meters bordered by a double line of barbed wire, more than 300 asylum seekers will be transported as of Monday from the shantytown of Vathi, where they have been crammed until now at the city gates, as it is being dismantled and decontaminated.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarashi said Saturday during the period of the inauguration ceremony of the camp, which is still empty.

Asylum seekers will be divided into several ‘neighbourhoods’, where they will have access to dining areas, sports and games, as well as communal kitchens. The AFP team found that the dorms had five beds and a wardrobe with Turkish toilets and communal showers.

“The new center with controlled and closed access will restore their lost dignity to those seeking international protection, as well as the necessary conditions of protection and detention for illegal immigrants who must be returned,” the minister added.

Inside the camp, a detention center was planned for all migrants who had been denied asylum and sentenced to return to Turkey. Likewise on the island of Leros, where such a camp is due to be completed next month, and the island of Kos immediately afterwards.

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On Lesvos, where the Moria camp was reduced to ashes last year, work has not yet begun and the new center will not be completed until the fall of 2022, according to a government source.

Five new camps

The European Commission has pledged €276 million to fund five new camps on the Aegean islands, which receive most of the migrants coming from the neighboring Turkish coasts.

“This is the first reception center for a new generation in the Aegean islands,” Betty Geminder, Deputy Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs at the European Commission, told Samos Samos.

On Samos, the Vathy slum housed nearly 7,000 asylum seekers between 2015 and 2016, with an initial capacity of 680 people.

Of the 550 migrants remaining on the island, 300 still living in unsanitary conditions have agreed to be transferred to the new camp where they are due to attend on Monday.

But they will only be allowed out during the day from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, and they are taken by special buses in the city and forced to show their fingerprints and electronic badges at the magnetic gate at the entrance.

Disciplinary penalties are planned for those who do not return before 8:00 pm.

Human rights defenders are concerned about the detention of asylum seekers.

These new centers will “prevent the effective identification of vulnerable people”, “limit asylum seekers’ access to services” and “amplify the harmful impact of incarceration on people’s mental health”, criticized by about fifty NGOs, including Amnesty International.

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Admit that the word ‘closed’ often appears worrisome.

Mireille Girard, UNHCR Representative in Greece.

UNHCR’s position is that an asylum seeker needs protection, he is not a criminal or someone who poses a danger to society, he is someone who needs help. For us, the camps should be open, and the government assured us that they would be open.”

Athens continues to applaud the dramatic relief of overcrowding in the camps on the islands and the nearly 90% drop in arrivals since 2019.

But NGOs explain this decline by the systematic and illegal forcible return of migrants to Turkey, which the conservative Greek government denies.

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