According to refugee testimonies and information from organisations active in the field, disgraceful living conditions prevail in the overcrowded Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) in Samos, whose construction was 100% financed by the European Union. As we highlight in the present text of Refugee Support Aegean and PRO ASYL, among other things, there are reports of a significant lack of running water, serious shortages of basic goods, services, and accommodation facilities, with hundreds of people being forced to sleep on the floor in communal areas.
The state-of-the-art structure, which was inaugurated in September 2021 and is located in the location “Zervou”, 9 km away from Vathi (the capital of the island), is currently overcrowded. According to official data on 4 February, 3769 people were living in the structure, which has a nominal capacity for 3,650. According to UNHCR data, at the end of January, out of the total registered population, the majority of the people came from Syria (34%), Afghanistan (26%) and Palestine (18%). Men are 57% of the population, women are 20%, and 23% of the population are children.
Since this summer, arrivals have increased, while since December there has been a decrease in transfers to structures in the mainland and a significant lack of space. In addition, we recall that on 28 September the nominal capacity of the CCAC was increased by 79.36% overnight: from 2,040 to 3,659 people, without providing any clarification to date. Newly arrived refugees report to RSA that they are forced to sleep on the floor without mattresses in a room originally intended to serve as a restaurant. These are mainly people from Afghanistan and African countries. In September, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) granted interim measures in a case concerning accommodation at the Samos CCAC based on Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court related to protection from imminent danger or irreparable harm. The Court indicated to the government of Greece to ensure that the six-month-old baby with a heart condition is provided with medical treatment and that both the baby and its mother be provided with suitable accommodation. According to the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP), which brought the appeal, the refugees had been illegally detained in the CCAC for more than 30 days, without access to appropriate care.
During autumn, many people were forced to live in communal areas such as restaurants – including unaccompanied minors who were not identified in time by the staff of the structure. The conditions in which the residents sleep in these areas amid low temperatures are shocking:
“They have given each person a blanket and you can either use it to sleep on or to cover yourself up. Some people even sleep on the tables in the restaurant,” says Amir*, an asylum seeker who lives with his family in one of these places. “There are more than 100 people in the room. There are other rooms with a respective number of residents. The whole situation inside the structure affects our children’s psychology. They often cannot enroll to school because there are no places in the schools on the island.”
In November, refugees were even forced to sleep in makeshift shelters made of pallets and tarpaulins in CCAC’s courtyards, according to a report by the organisation I Have Rights.
As Amir* points out, there are no toilets and showers in these places:
“We use those belonging to other residents. Running water in sanitary facilities is only available for one or two hours a day. The toilets are very dirty and women try to clean them during that one hour a day when there is running water.”
Nasim*, another asylum seeker we spoke to who lives in a container with his family, tells us about the lack of running water:
“I haven’t had a bath for 4 days, and when there is water, it is very cold. Hot water is not always available. We wait for days to take a bath and clean up. We can’t do anything to save water. They tell me to go to the information office and file a complaint. They say they will fix it, but they don’t do anything.”
We recall that according to OHCHR, 20 litres per person per day is the minimum quantity required to realise minimum essential levels of the right to access to water and sanitation. To ensure the full realisation of the right, States should aim for at least 50 to 100 litres per person per day. None of these international standards are ensured in the closed “state-of-the-art” CCAC of Samos. According to reports, due to the lack of a stable water supply, not even the sanitary facilities of the staff working in the CCAC can be properly cleaned, with the workers avoiding using the toilets as a result. The lack of a stable water supply in the structure has been known since before its construction, according to people working in the field. Besides, there is a problem with the water supply in Samos in several other areas. In September, a parliamentary question was submitted, raising the lack of running and drinking water in the CCAC but also that of fire safety, as it was reported that the water tanks were empty, while the Municipality of Eastern Samos was unable to provide water for the operation of the structure (given that the existing borehole cannot meet the needs of the ever-increasing population of the CCAC).
According to information from employees in the structure, washing machines are not working, and at the end of January, there was a break in the continuous supply of running water for almost seven days, with all that implies the sanitary conditions in a population where there are cases of scabies and other skin diseases due to overcrowding. According to a publication, in September, residents with communicable diseases were given cartons instead of blankets.
Refugees, employees and activists report shortages of basic goods, (e.g. hygiene items such as soap, sanitary napkins), but also shortages of clothing and shoes.
“One organisation gave us plastic slippers and we walk around with them. There is not enough clothing for young children and no diapers for all ages either,” Amir* points out.
These shortages are confirmed by employees in the field. At the same time, due to overcrowding, residents are forced to wait in queues for hours twice a day in order to receive breakfast and lunch along with the afternoon meal.
“Sometimes, when my turn comes, the food runs out, which means they give insufficient food to those who are there and it is of very poor quality. My daughters sometimes get sick because of poor nutrition, cold and inadequate clothing,” says Nasim*.
The refugees we spoke to stress that each person is given only 1.5 litres of drinking water per day, to cover all their needs. Publications report that 6 bottles of water a day were previously given to the residents, while they underline that according to testimonies, in autumn the police threw (!) the food [into the crowd] ‘and whoever caught it up’. According to refugee testimonies, tension often arises in the queues waiting for meals, resulting in violent police intervention.
Another important problem remains the lack of a doctor in the facility. MSF has a mobile unit, which visits the structure three times a week. Only a military doctor occasionally visits the structure while the local hospital is severely understaffed. Refugees also report insufficient pharmaceutical support.
“If you have a health problem, they usually give you one or two pills, e.g. depon,” Ahsan* tells us.
As for psychological support, there is one psychologist from the National Public Health Organisation (EODY) and three psychologists from Médecins Sans Frontières. There are also significant shortages in psychosocial support for minors.
According to reports, the CCAC is understaffed, resulting in significant delays in asylum procedures. These delays are mainly observed in relation to procedures for refugees from Afghanistan and African countries, which is probably linked to the lack of adequate interpretation. As a result, many asylum seekers and applicants remain unregistered and live in detention conditions as they do not have the necessary documents to move freely on the island. The pace of registration has started to improve in recent weeks, as reported to us by employees in the field.
Those refugees who are allowed to leave the facility report being subjected to thorough controls upon entering the CCAC.
“When you enter the structure, even if you have a slice of bread with you, they will check it. We have to take off our shoes and jackets,” says Amir*.
“There are many controls when entering and exiting and many people suffer. They don’t care if they are children. They make you wait in line until your turn comes even if it’s very cold. Children also have to go through controls,” Nasim* tells us.
Those who stay in the communal areas also face a condition of constant surveillance, as they report that the surveillance cameras inside the restaurants operate 24/7. This violates these individuals’ privacy, who are forced to live in crowded conditions.
“We are making complaints. We tell them that we need to stay in a container, to have privacy. They tell us they don’t have space,” says Amir*.
The issue of police violence in the CCAC has been mentioned in an RSA publication in May 2023. As Joanna Begiazi from the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP) points out, there are unfortunately still instances of police violence within the structure. In particular, she cites an incident in which she and another colleague were present during a riot squad operation during a peaceful protest of residents in early January.
“There were a lot of people waiting near the gate to go to services including to the National Public Health Organisation. There was a spontaneous protest and people were chanting ‘asylum, asylum’. There were children, women and men. It didn’t seem like something violent or something that would escalate. Suddenly a riot squad appears and attacks. We were close by. We asked for the camera footage to be investigated and it will probably be given to us. They also arrested someone on charges of inciting disobedience and disturbing the peace. A little girl was crying and her parents were complaining that she had been beaten. There was no administrative staff to serve the people and the response was excessive violence.”, says Joanna Begiazi from the Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP)
In Samos, there are now homeless refugee families, while waiting to receive their travel documents. These problems have been exacerbated by the recurrent interruptions of the HELIOS programme, which is the only programme in Greece for integration and housing.
“People on fast track procedures receive their protection status but have to wait 2-3 months to receive passports. They have no money. We had identified recognised families with children on the streets, even with babies. Recognised refugee single men are living in abandoned buildings. They have very few options in Samos and they have no money,” stresses an employee in the field who wishes to remain anonymous.
Until recently there was tolerance regarding their stay in the CCAC, due to humanitarian reasons and recognised refugees were not asked to leave the CCAC immediately once they received their status. According to information from the field, due to overcrowding, they now send them a notice asking them to leave the structure in one month.