Migrants: Mayor of Samos fears "major humanitarian catastrophe"


Samos (Greece) – The mayor of the Greek island of Samos fears a "major humanitarian catastrophe" with "possible riots" if the overcrowded Vathy camp where more than 6,000 migrants live in "primitive" conditions is not decongested urgently.

On the hill overlooking Vathy, the capital of this island in the Aegean Sea, the Samos camp was originally designed to accommodate 650 asylum seekers.

But with the proliferation of arrivals from neighboring Turkey, thousands of migrants are piling up or trying to tinker with a makeshift shelter near the camp.

"People camp on dry creeks, with the risk of floods and fires. They organize their own housing, their toilets, their water supply in a completely primitive way"says Georgios Stantzos, the new mayor of this part of the island.

"We try to stay calm but the situation is not manageable, it gets worse day by day", he said in an interview with AFP, made Tuesday.

"If the government does not realize its project to decongest the islands, we fear a major humanitarian crisis, with health implications and security problems as possible riots or clashes", adds the edile.

The city of Vathy, which also bears the name of the island of Samos, has some 7,000 inhabitants, almost the number of asylum seekers it houses, the highest ratio of Greece, said the mayor.

– "The Red line"outdated –

In October, a fire broke out in the camp, probably triggered by a fight in the city between rival Syrian and Afghan groups.

"We have passed the red line. Any incidental incident can have terrible consequences", warns the mayor.

"There are large groups of young people with no respect for their own fellow believers, who find themselves alone with the local population", he laments again.

Four years after the peak of the migration crisis, in 2015, Greece once again became the main entry point for asylum seekers in Europe. Turkey has threatened to open its borders if it does not receive more European aid.

The Greek government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis has begun transferring hundreds of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to the mainland, with the goal of relocating 20,000 by the end of 2019.

But hundreds of exiles continue to flock daily. The Ministry of Citizen Protection announced that 40,000 people had arrived in Greece in the last four months.

In the only night from Tuesday to Wednesday, the coastguards rescued "194 migrants and refugees in rescue operations off Lesbos and Samos", including 48, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, were transferred to Vathy, according to a statement from the authorities.

– "The rest of Greece"closes its doors –

On the continent, several cities are resisting, refusing to welcome more migrants from the islands on the verge of asphyxiation.

More than 34,000 exiles currently live on the five islands "hotspots", where migrants register on their arrival (Lesbos, Samos, Leros, Chios, Kos), for a theoretical capacity of only 6,300.

Racist and xenophobic manifestations have increased in recent weeks in Greece. Meetings against the arrival of asylum seekers have been organized in several cities of the continent, from north to south.

"Most European countries have closed their borders. Now the rest of Greece is also starting to close its borders", regrets Mr. Stantzos.

A new migrant camp, to be erected on a remote hill west of Vathy, will not be finished until January. It is planned for up to 1,200 people, according to the mayor.

But if all these projects "are not implemented, in two months we will have between 10,000 to 15,000 people"Samos," he castigates.

And to advocate for the extension of the powers of the European Border Control Agency (Frontex) so that it can work with the Turkish police and prevent migrant boats from leaving the Turkish coast.


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