As you may or may not know, I’ve been volunteering in Greece with Action for Education since April. It’s been difficult for me to witness the pain and injustice caused by the processing system for refugee and asylum seekers managed by the European Asylum Support Office and the Greek Asylum Services. I can only imagine what it is like for those actually living in the de facto refugee camps.
I say ‘de facto’ because they are officially considered Reception and Identification Centers. The centers on Chios and Samos were intended as temporary spaces where refugee and asylum seekers would stay less than a month before completing their processing and receiving their three-year residence permit. Due to the unexpected numbers of refugee and asylum seekers, the interviews that are part of the process have been delayed. A number of seekers have reported arriving for their interview, and being told to return in six weeks time. One seeker was given the date of 2025 for their interview. The UN and the Greek State have yet to officially recognize the camps on Chios and Samos as a Refugee Camp.
In Samos the Center houses 4,000 residents, which is six times over capacity. One in four residents are children. Most people live in tents infested with rats, snakes, and spiders without access to sanitary toilets and showers or kitchens to prepare their meals. I have yet to see this with my own eyes, but this video by Help Refugees does it for me.
For most of my time in Greece, I have been protected from the atrocities of the situation. My role has been to provide a safe space for those living in the camps, to make them smile and laugh and forget.
But today was different. Today, I heard their pain and, through my roommate Jeromé Fourcade, experienced the repression and injustice that the refugee and asylum seekers experience everyday.
While walking to Estrella’s for my morning coffee, I heard shouting and screams. I looked past the sea to the tents of the camp and felt in my bones that something terrible was happening.
A few hours later, I went home to cook dinner and Jeromé shared with me what happened to him:
The Greek and EU elections are tomorrow. I admit, I didn’t register to vote. For that, I apologize and promise to be better. If you are a better European citizen than me and registered to vote, please vote. Things need to change. This can not keep happening.