Refugees escaping war and hardship in the Middle East who risked their lives and paid smugglers 1000’s of dollars to reach the safety of Europe, are now trying to swim their way back to Turkey.
They are leaving behind asylum detention centers described by some as unfit for animals.
Some migrants weary of deportation back to Turkey and an uncertain welcome by the authorities have pre-empted the process to avoid facing Turkish interrogation and detention.
Greek Reporter reports:
Dozens of people stood on the small shore just outside the camp and watched as the swimmers inched towards the Turkish city of Cesme. While it appears close, it’s in fact twenty-six kilometers removed from the central eastern shore of Chios, not accounting for oceanic currents.
A large proportion of people staying in the Chios camps arrived on March 20, some fifty days ago, and bureaucratic procedures have only slowly and laboriously been established. Interviews for the immense number of asylum applications have been delayed by local resistance to the import of containers by the European Asylum Support Office and lack of staff has plagued the First Reception Service, a Greek governmental organization.
Additionally, about 2000 refugees on the island are much more than the stated capacity to house them, which stands at 1100 souls. Even the stated capacity might be misleading, as problems with accommodation and provisions were described by refugees from the first day of the agreement between EU and Turkey on March 20. In mid-April, on the neighboring island of Samos, numerous people were camped on the concrete floors of the hotspot even as the inhabitants were said to number well below the hotspot’s stated capacity of 850.
The combination of overcrowding, idle waiting, political uncertainty, security issues and insufficient food have kept people’s mood simmering for weeks. While recent days have seen fewer protests than the end of March and beginning of April, refugees have grown more despondent. “We are treated like animals,” a man in Vial, the hotspot on Chios, said on April 30, a sentiment widely echoed.
The refugees who tried swimming to Turkey were spotted by volunteers from Drops in the Ocean, a Norwegian charity, who called the Hellenic Coast Guard. Two speedboats picked up the four swimmers, who were equipped with life-vests, and brought them to shore. They had barely gotten out of the harbor in the half-hour they were in the ocean, but that did not seem to deter some of the people watching. “Tomorrow we will also try,” they said as the boats disappeared from sight.
Refugees deport themselves to avoid Turkish authorities, according to Ekathimerini:
The first group included four Iraqis who tried to swim back by clinging onto a rubber ring. It was not immediately clear who was in the second group.
Under terms of a controversial March 20 agreement between Brussels and Ankara aimed at easing the migrant crisis, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands face the prospect of being deported to Turkey. The aim is to discourage people from making the perilous Aegean crossing.
According to the Ethnos daily, they were among those slated for deportation and had hoped that by making their own way back, they could arrive incognito, thereby avoiding detention by the Turkish authorities on their return.
So far, more than 300 people have been sent back, with rights groups saying their fate was unclear.
There are currently 8,400 migrants on the Greek islands, officials said Wednesday, most of whom are waiting for their asylum applications to be processed.
New arrivals are confined to camps for 25 days, after which they are allowed out but cannot leave the islands.
Separately there are another 45,000 migrants and refugees who arrived in Greece before the March 20 deadline who have been stuck since the Balkans state began closing their borders in mid-February.
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