I visited the island of Samos, Greece in the summer of 2021. The corresponding result is a poetic photo essay about the situation on Samos that aims to raise awareness of the circumstances that refugees deal with on a daily basis. It’s a situation that tears people apart and where dreams get shattered. There are people of all ages, young and old, who had to flee their country because they were in direct danger of being killed, separated from their families and the country where they were born.
Could you try to imagine a world without borders, a global space where people can freely move from one country to another, to settle down, live and work wherever they wish? This sounds like a Utopia with all the strict controls that states across Europe and the U.S. currently execute at their frontiers. People who are forced to flee their country typically do so because of war, conflict, or government persecution. But traveling across borders has become increasingly criminalized in certain parts of the world. Over the past few years, many borders have been transformed into militarized spaces due to increased funding, the deployments of additional border guards, and the construction of walls and surveillance infrastructure. As a result, international migration has become one of the major moral and political challenges of our time.
“After a difficult and unpleasant journey, where you risk your life and fight the sea waves trying to reach the land of dreams—or at least, what you think it is—your happy dreams of a safe and peaceful life are destroyed and the happy land disappears. You come to find out it is just a prison that cannot be escaped, surrounded by the sea on all sides, where you miss all the basics of life.”
A fundamental human right is the freedom of movement. This is a human right that can’t be restricted by a racist or nationalist government. They are just mechanisms for some groups of people to claim land or protect territory. The violence that occurs at borders today is emblematic of a broader system that seeks to preserve privilege and opportunity for some by restricting access to resources and movement from others.
The arrivals of migrants to Greece, either by sea or by land have slowed down since 2016. The restrictive border policies of the EU and the increasing border externalization make it even harder for refugees to arrive in Europe where they believe there is a future for them. A safe space. The situation on the islands has changed considerably in the last year due to Covid-19 restrictions and transfers to the mainland. There has also been a drop of arrivals as a result of illegal pushbacks by the Greek government and Frontex, Europe’s border and coastguard agency.
Samos, which is located 1.7km from the Turkish coast, is one such island—home to Greece’s first refugee holding camp. It is a very beautiful island at first glance, but dig a little deeper and the harsh reality becomes apparent. There is a lack of alternative accommodation choices on the island, which means that many refugees remain confined for long periods—several months and even years—inside the camp and in the surrounding area.
“When you think you have everything, and actually you have nothing. From the island of Samos in Greece, where dreams get shattered.”
Earlier this year, the European Union gave Greece funding to build five new refugee camps on the Aegean islands. Now, the government is presenting the building of these camps as a solution to the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean. The camp in Samos was the first one to be built and finalized in September, 2021. However, neither the EU nor the Greek government are investing resources into systems that can help refugees to rebuild their lives. And while the new camps are being built, there are still converging problems that make the problem of refugee housing even more complex.
Before the pandemic, asylum seekers were relatively free to move in and out from the camps. There was access to essential services and the opportunity to move out of the terrible living conditions that emerged in the camps. But the design and locations of the new camps will limit access to the outside and restrict access to essential services. On Samos the closest village is Mytilene, which is around 5km away from the new camp. The perimeter and interior of the centre of Mytilene will be under camera surveillance with motion analysis algorithms monitoring the behavior and movement of the refugees.
“Now, two years after arriving, my only wish is to get out of this open prison because I’m tired of the daily routine.”
This does not stop refugees from taking the risk of reaching a safe habitat. People continue to sail across dangerous passages on overpopulated plastic dinghies.
“How long are we going to be prisoners here for? We never know! What is going to happen to us? We also do not know, we only know that we are stuck here and being forgotten about.”
Editor’s Note: All quotes featured in this article are attributed to refugees who were interviewed by the author and who prefer to remain anonymous.