The Jungle of Samos
THE JUNGLE OF SAMOS - A STORY ABOUT REFUGEES, CAMPS AND GLIMMERS OF HOPE
Samos aka the "Green Island" enchants with sandy beaches, typical Greek taverns and a breathtaking landscape. But it is not just the well-known holiday paradise. At a distance of less than two kilometers from Turkey, the island is the first port of call for many refugees on their way to the supposedly safe EU.
The first reached Samos in 2016 and so many followed within a very short time that the authorities quickly lost track. The refugee camp that was set up for 650 people outside of Samos town, near the small town of Vathy, was full in no time and so newcomers looked for alternatives.
We fast forward four years. Over the years, they have set up their own camp around the official camp, which officially does not exist. They call it themselves: “The Jungle”.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
The name is no coincidence - while vacationers relax on the sandy beach around the corner, the residents live up there on the mountain above Vathy in sometimes inhumane conditions with a lack of basic services. They build tents and huts out of plastic sheeting, stones and whatever else they can find. Sometimes a small flower garden in the corner adds a touch of dignity to the accommodation.
Nevertheless, the residents are defenseless against the heat in summer. In winter, on the other hand, the camp is hit more and more often by rain, wind and storms, the ground becomes more slippery and dangerous. They have to deal with that themselves.
And another picture characterizes this humanitarian catastrophe in the middle of Europe: mountains of rubbish. Everything is piled up here, from disposable plastic to scrap – and in between, bugs like to romp about. Rats, scorpions and snakes have made the self-proclaimed "jungle" their own. There is hardly any access to water or sanitary facilities and when they are, the latter are partly extremely dirty, sometimes broken and you can only reach them after a long queue. In general, the children among the camp residents are usually hit particularly hard: They make up around a third of the residents and are particularly susceptible to diseases such as a bacterial skin disease called impetigo.
A LACK OF EVERYTHING
According to reports, not only is there a shortage of water due to the overcrowding, there is also a lack of clothing and hygiene items such as diapers, soap and disinfectants. All of this has a firm place on the “wish lists” for donations in kind by NGOs.
The same applies to food: Nutrient-rich fruit is not enough for everyone, other foods are expired or inedible. The residents often have no choice but to shop outside the camp, with EU-financed cash assistance ranging from €75 per month for singles to €245 for a family of six or more. They prepare their own food with camping stoves or on open fireplaces - which has already led to devastating fires. Not to forget the health condition: from trauma to depression to violence due to frustration. According to Samos Volunteers, there is only one doctor and one psychologist for the entire camp, and the local hospital has been overwhelmed for years - and since COVID-19 even more.
COVID-19 – THE NEXT CRISIS
The pandemic is also affecting the asylum application process. They are delayed and it can take months or even years before a decision is made. There are also frequent tensions with the locals. When the EU-Turkey deal was decided they had no say and received little to no support to maintain their infrastructure. Also, as a holiday island, they too have been hit hard by COVID-19. Again and again there are protests that demarcated camps should be set up or completely relocated to the mainland.
According to a report by the taz, this is exactly what is to happen in Samos. The first pictures of the new camp are already out: It is located outside of Samos town and other villages, so the residents have to travel an even longer distance if they want to buy groceries or just go out. It is fenced with barbed wire, equipped with surveillance cameras and security guards will control the entrances and exits. Sounds a bit like maximum security prison...
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
Against all odds, there is hope. In this way, the residents have managed to build up a small infrastructure for months amid all the chaos: a baker sells flatbreads, there is a hairdresser and a kind of market. They built a gym out of junk like old car tires and plastic bottles filled with sand. A choir sings in the church, the Muslims pray in their mosque.
Also on site: aid organizations such as Samos Volunteers . In addition to about four other NGOs, such as Doctors Without Borders, they try with all their might to make life a little more pleasant for the residents. Outside of the camp, they set up their Alpha Center. There is psychosocial support for the refugees, educational opportunities for children and free language courses. In the Community Area you can chat over a cup of tea, play board games, read books or charge your cell phone to keep in touch with family at home. In addition, the NGO provides the residents with a professional laundry service, free of charge.
Fundraising and donations in kind are also being started time and again, either privately or by various NGOs. With our THE SOCIAL SOAP BOX initiative we would also like to make our contribution: together with the Hamburg non-profit design studio NOT FOR YOUR DISTINCTION eV not only soap boxes were created from our company's recycled plastic waste. Each one is unique and for every box sold, 30 soap donations go directly to Samos. In addition, thanks to the help of our brand friends from Beiersdorf AG and Klar Seifen GmbH, we were able to donate 7,000 bar soaps as emergency aid in the summer - because every soap counts.