The future of “migration management” in the EU was inaugurated last September in Samos. The Closed Controlled Access Center of Zervou set the path for a new model of European reception premises for asylum seekers and migrants that prioritizes isolation and securitization.
Still I Rise’s new report “Growing Behind Barbed-Wire” provides a first insight into the impact that the policy of containment and deterrence has on the mental health of camp residents.
Seven months after the opening of the Closed Controlled Access Center, the promises of restoring dignity for asylum seekers and migrants have been diluted with the loss of independence and freedom of movement and the reduction of essential services in the facilities.
The report includes the own perspectives of minors and alleged minors who have lived in a legal limbo in Samos for more than two years and experienced the transfer to the new camp with a mixture of hope and preoccupation.
Although the previous hotspot in Vathi was not an appropriate place for anybody to live in, the new Closed and Controlled Access Center has completely changed the life of camp residents, not necessarily for the better. Starting from the new official name given to the center, the feelings of those living there are of imprisonment and isolation.
“They might have left behind the improvised tents and shacks built on a hill with snakes and rats, but now they have been completely stripped of their freedom, which is normally the ultimate punishment for a crime- which they didn’t commit”, says Giulia Cicoli, Advocacy DIrector at Still I Rise.
The extensive area of the camp includes space for more than 2,000 people, playing fields, offices and common areas. In parallel, the security measures have been upgraded to penitentiary level, including police and security guards patrolling the perimeter, 24h functioning surveillance cameras and scheduled closure of the gates for camp residents (1).
Although the Greek authorities defend these measures are for the benefit of asylum seekers and migrants living there, we can only but wonder what kind of threats lurk for this population in an isolated valley 9 kilometers away from the main town. The reality is that they are only meant to keep people in, away from sight.
The results of the self-evaluation exercise show that the securitization of the reception and identification facility in Samos is taking a toll on the mental health of its residents. In fact, all the respondents reported that the process of passing through the gates generated a high level of stress on them, as well as frustration. They also reported feeling relieved when being outside.
In summary, the security process, the distance from Vathi and the cost of the bus ticket have emerged as new barriers that further alienate the migrant population from a normal life.
However, this major investment in security has not been matched by an improvement of essential services in the camp or in the increase of caseworkers from the asylum office.
On the contrary, the majority of the respondents have suffered the inefficiency of the reception, identification and asylum services. In extreme cases, this has meant the loss of special protection for those that were only recognised as minors when they had already reached adulthood two years after their initial asylum application.
Moreover, the CCAC still lacks the adequate medical and social services that were already non-existent in the old hotspot. Indeed, the center has been operating without the presence of a doctor since February and the guardianship system for UAMs is not in place yet.
The content of this report focuses on describing the living experience through the new physical barriers created by the CCAC model, but these obstacles are also accompanied by legal measures which make the center’s residents even more vulnerable.
In the last months, Still I Rise has partnered with I Have Rights. to present an additional submission report to the Committee of the Rights of the Child to comment on Greece’s compliance with the Convention (accessible here).
The report focuses on the situation of UAMs in the CCAC and provides strong arguments to denounce the de facto detention of this population and the inefficiencies in the age and vulnerability assessment process against the best interests of the child.
Nevertheless, this camp is just another tool in the long-standing policy of containment, exclusion and deterrence of asylum seekers and refugees in Greece.
Indeed, the number of arrivals has dramatically decreased as a consequence of the practice of violent pushbacks in the Aegean sea and at the land border point of Evros. Local civil society and NGOs have been denouncing this practice, which became routinary over the years and more violent since the pandemic started. Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, Le Monde and other outlets produced a months-long investigation that provided tangible proof of deadly pushbacks.
In the last weeks, the Director of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has resigned in the face of the upcoming results of an official anti-fraud investigation that reveals how the agency’s own reporting system is used to cover-up pushbacks in the Aegean and its direct involvement.
Long after the peak of the “refugee crisis” hit Greece, the same structural problems in the reception and asylum system leave vulnerable people in a legal limbo for an indefinite period of time. As the EU moves towards reshaping its asylum system, it is crucial that politicians and society alike reconsider the impact that the securitization of borders has on the lives of those coming to Europe seeking safety, including their mental health.