Greek mayor warns of riots in ‘primitive’ island camp conditions

SAMOS, GREECE (AFP) – The mayor of a Greek island on the front line of migration from Turkey has warned of possible riots if “primitive” conditions at its overcrowded camp are not urgently addressed.

The migrant camp on the island of Samos, originally built to handle 650 people, now houses over 6,000 and has long outstripped its boundaries. Thousands of people are now struggling to find space in the hills above the town, crafting makeshift homes out of whatever building material they can find.

“People are camping in dry stream beds,” said newly elected mayor for the eastern half of the island Georgios Stantzos. “They are at risk from fires and floods.

“Camp residents organise their own housing, water supply and sanitation in completely primitive ways. We are trying to remain calm but the situation is not manageable… it gets worse every day,” he told AFP.

“If government plans to decongest the islands are not carried out… we fear a humanitarian crisis on a major scale, with sanitary implications (and) possible clashes.”

The town of Samos has about 7,000 residents and nearly as many asylum-seekers, the highest ratio anywhere in Greece, said Stantzos.

In October, a fire broke out in the camp after a brawl in town, apparently between rival groups of Syrians and Afghans.

“We are past the red line,” said Stantzos. “Any random event could lead to terrible results.

Four years after the 2015 refugee crisis, Greece has again become a key point of entry for asylum-seekers to Europe.

The government has lately transferred hundreds of asylum-seekers from Greek islands to sites on the mainland, and said it wants to relocate 20,000 by the end of the year. But the flow continues.

Hundreds land daily, and the Migration Ministry said 40,000 people have arrived from Turkey in the past four months.

And goodwill is wearing thin.

Several towns on the mainland have in recent weeks refused to take in more asylum-seekers from the islands, including Samos.

“Most European countries have closed their borders. Now the rest of Greece is starting to shut its borders too,” said Stantzos.

A new camp currently being built further west of town is not expected to be complete before January. It will be able to house up to 1,200 people, the mayor said.

“But if (these plans) are not carried out, in two months we could have 10,000-15,000 people staying here.”