The leaders of the EU and Turkey gather in Brussels tomorrow in order to hammer out a new deal to stem the flow of refugees and migrant into Europe. In Greece and on Samos many feel the results of the talks will not change status quo.
A deep, prolonged sound reverberates across the bay and sets hundreds of people on the harbour in motion. A few minutes later the ferry heading for Athens comes into sight and refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and a host of other countries start gathering their few belongings and grey UN-blankets. Many are women and many have several small children to hold onto whilst they get ready to embark the ferry through its gaping mouth.
There is relief and excitement on the quay. Many have waited a long time in the detention centre on the hillside behind Samos Town to register and get their papers. Today they can finally get off the island and move on. Though some have heard that the road is blocked across the Aegean Sea, few choose to believe it. They have made it this far and it is just too painful to accept that all the money spent and the hardship on the road so far will come to nothing.
But it most probably will.
A game with no winners
Whilst the hundreds of newly registered wait to embark, EU-leaders are preparing to meet Turkey’s prime minister in Brussels. The leaders hope to reach a deal with Ahmet Davutoglu that will effectively stop the flow of refugees and migrants from Turkey and beyond, but in Greece and on Samos people are not holding their breath for it to happen. According to the UNHCR 140.000 people have made it to Greece from Turkey so far this year, and of those approximately 7.500 people have come to Samos. Smuggling is big business on the Turkish coastline just a few kilometres from the island, and hence it will take more than words of condemnation in Brussels to stop the smugglers’ trade and the refugees and migrants from coming. The latter all come with the hope of findings a better future in Europe – not to stay in Greece, but as the situation deteriorates on the Greek-Macedonian border, some start to consider applying for asylum here. Few want to though, so it is with the slim hope of somehow finding a passage north the 200+ people on the harbour swiftly move from the quay to the ferry and wave goodbye.
A ferry-ride to nowhere
From the quay locals, volunteers and UNHCR staff wave back, but it is with mixed feelings they are watching the ferry leave. They know the impossible situation that awaits the registered upon their arrival in Athens. They also know that no matter what comes out of the EU-summit 2.500 km to the northwest, it will not be good news for the women and children on the ferry. Should they tell them this? And to what end? The refugees and migrants want to go and they believe that it is possible for them and their families to talk their way through the fences. But everywhere awaits only more camps – like the one they left behind on Samos. It was not pleasant, but from TV-coverage everyone waving goodbye know it is only going to get worse on the mainland.
Maybe the EU-leaders know this too. Maybe they think that inhuman, crammed conditions, high fences, closed borders and more hardship will deter the ones already here from staying and the ones thinking of coming from crossing. But most of those arriving on a daily basis to the islands have been told by their smugglers that there are ways to cross even closed borders. They have been told of and sold tickets for busses ‘going north’ as part of their ‘package’. They have been assured that the problems right now are only temporary. The smugglers make millions of dollars every day doing this trade in human misery, and they stand to lose much of that money, should the Turkish government make a deal with the EU and the authorities seriously clamp down on their businesses. Are the Turks really interested in that? Time will tell, but looking at the numbers who have crossed since Turkey promised to go after the smugglers last time, it does not seem likely. So whatever the outcome of the summit in Brussels today and tomorrow, locals, volunteers and NGO’s will most likely still be standing on the quay waving goodbye to and watching hopeful refugees and migrants making their voyage to an uncertain future – next week… and next month as well.
Facts about Greece:
Population: 10,8 mio.
Area: 131.957 km2
GDP per inhabitant: $25.800 down from $26.400 (2012)
Form of government: Democracy
Source: CIA Factbook (2015)