World, Europe

Refugees on Greek island sleep rough as winter looms

Vulnerable refugees in overcrowded Samos camp say they are fearful for the coming winter

10.10.2017
Refugees on Greek island sleep rough as winter looms FILE PHOTO

By Furkan Naci Top

SAMOS, Greece

Hundreds of refugees who recently crossed the Aegean Sea to the Greek island of Samos to seek asylum, are facing tough conditions ahead of winter, as they sleep rough in camping tents in the woods.

Vulnerable refugees -- including families with babies, elderly women in wheelchairs or people with mental health issues -- are struggling without heating, electricity or hygiene due to overcrowding in the refugee camp.

Escaping from Syria with his five children, 47-year-old Ahmed Khalil told Anadolu Agency he was unpleasantly "surprised" as they arrived four days ago at the so-called hotspot in the town of Vathi.

"They gave us this camping tent and all we got to keep warm in the cold nights is one blanket," he said. "My biggest concern is my one-year-old daughter's health."

Healthcare and hygiene are other matters that worry Ahmed. "There is only one shower cabin, and even that is without hot water. And we have drinking water only for a few hours daily," he complains.

According to Greek official figures, the number of refugees in the island is over 2,900, more than four times the camp’s capacity of only 700.

Overcrowding is the main reason behind the "unacceptable" picture on the island, according to UNHCR Greece spokesman, Boris Cheshirkov.

Nearly 5,000 refugees landed on Greek islands in September alone, the busiest month since an EU-Turkey deal's implementation which was set up to curb the refugee flow to Europe.


'Alarming'

"On the islands, particularly in Samos and Lesvos, we once again see an alarming situation," Cheshirkov told Anadolu Agency.

Cheshirkov puts the number of outside the camp at more than 300, including women in wheelchairs, unaccompanied minors, families with babies only a few weeks old. Many of these people are staying in conditions unfit for winter weather.

"This is unacceptable," he adds, urging the Greek government to winterize the shelters and provide aid while immediately easing the crowding.

Mouhammed Ibrahem, an Iraqi refugee from city of Salahaddin, is worried about the winter weather as temperatures keep decreasing. "If it rains, our tents will be flooded. They distributed only the simplest raincoats as a measure," the 19-year-old said.

Another witness to the refugees' dire conditions is Bogdan Andrei, who is a member of Samos Volunteers, a group which aids those who arrive on the island.

"You feel the tension in the camp, when you walk. The refugees are angry. When they come here for language classes or just for drinking tea, they get away from the pressure in the camp," he said.

He draws attention to solitary children and people with psychiatric problems, who can be abused or involved in violence around the camp, urging their transfer to safe shelters.

"We are in a position where the basic needs of the refugees are not met," he stated, pointing to a possible flood in winter.

"We are also facing a huge hygiene problem, since daily water cuts make it impossible for refugees to even clean themselves," he added.

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