For thousands of years Greece has been receiving people fleeing war and poverty from different countries. There are 2 main roads to enter Greece: by land at the Northern border with Turkey to the Evros Region or through crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey to one of the close lying Aegean islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, Leros). Since the closure of the Balkan road in March 2016, people seeking asylum cannot continue out of Greece legally. Since the EU-Turkey deal people cannot continue away from the “hotspots” where they arrive. Combined with slow asylum procedures this results in camps hosting thousands of asylum seekers stranded there for many months until years.
Samos is one of the Aegean islands with a vicinity to Turkey of only 2km. Samos holds one refugee camp, situated in its capital city of Vathy. It was once built to hold 650 people but is now populated by over 8000 people. Asylum seekers here most commonly hail from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, DRC and Cameroon. One third of the population is under 18 with a good proportion being unaccompanied. Half of the population consist of adult men. The population rises quickly every year as there are continued new arrivals but only few are transferred to the mainland.
The past decade has been hard on the population of Samos. In combination with the 2008 economic crisis, they have been forced to deal with this burden alone. This has lead to tensions between the different populations on the island. As a result, there are regular protests by the Samians demanding the opening of the closed “hotspots”, and there have also been protests from asylum seekers frustrated with their living conditions.
Overcrowding has led to abysmal living conditions in the camp which is detrimental to people's health. Most people have had to set up small tents outside of the official camp in the so-called Jungle. Tents become wet and cold in winter, making people vulnerable to infections. Fires created for warmth cause burns, most commonly with small children.
There are hardly any toilets or showers and most of them are dirty and broken, leading to either constipation or the spread of diarrhoea. Most people have little or no access to showers, which can lead to severely infected wounds. Living close to each other and having no access to washing machines leads to the spread of parasites such as bed bugs and scabies. Being dirty, the camp has rats, snakes and scorpions living alongside people. People are provided with “camp food’’ for which they have to stand in line a few hours for every meal, it is low in nutrients and often causes diarrhoea.
Understandably mental health problems such as PTSD and depression are the most common medical issue faced. Living in these conditions causes people to be on edge, leading to violence. It is an unsafe place for women, with many cases of sexual and gender-based violence. The camp is closed for international NGOs, meaning is is only possible to imagine the true horrors going on inside.
EODY is the Greek public health organisation in charge of providing health care to the people of the camp. With only one doctor and a few nurses, midwifes, and a psychologist, they lack the capacity to provide treatment for this population with a high demand for healthcare.
People will try to see this camp doctor for days on end, even sleeping in front of his office. The small local hospital has been overwhelmed with the sudden increase in population it has had to serve, leading to unacceptable waiting times for both the Greek population and the refugees. Factors such as a lack of translators, lack of social security numbers further impact access to care.
Patients in need of specialist care like HIV treatment, specific surgeries, cancer treatment, inpatient psychiatric care cannot be treated here and will have to be transferred to the mainland to obtain adequate care. Asylum seekers may benefit from certain diagnoses and thus feign or exaggerate symptoms in order to obtain a transfer, further increasing the stress on the system.
Med'EqualiTeam runs a clinic to improve access to primary care and relieve the local facilities. MSF has started a clinic providing sexual and reproductive health services. IRC is providing mental health support for refugees.