Prazis via Getty Images
After the listlessness of winter, summer is usually the antidote. Peak weather, renewed energy. Things start happening, people begin moving. For most of us this means enjoying life a little more. But for some it’s what their life depends on. Which is why this summer, the numbers of people trying to cross the Mediterranean sea from Libya to Italy geared up again. And at least one media outlet expressed surprise as they filmed boats arrive at the coast of Lesvos, perhaps half expecting that problem to have gone away since the EU-Turkey deal took effect.
Boats have been arriving at the Greek islands however, every month on an almost weekly basis. The frequency and volume may have gone down but the refugees didn’t disappear. But what they’re heading towards is almost as tragic as what they left behind. And while renewed media attention is welcome on the issue, as soon as the cameras turn away, the reality on the islands they reach is stark and underreported.
Firstly, their lives are in a state of constant limbo. Often unable to be housed by UNHCR, refugees are living in makeshift camps or private or state run detention facilities, like Vial in Chios. Vial is run by the Greek military and while they have loosened security so those with papers can come and go as they please, it remains a deeply detested and harsh place to live that has fostered a culture of violence. Elements of this have spilt over onto the informal camp in Chios city, Souda, that’s been targeted by fascists on a number of occasions. But it’s the petty and harsh conditions of the camps that have intensified tensions within them. Exacerbated by political stagnation.
It’s something that NGOs like ICRC in Greece are aware of. Fragkiska Magaloudi from the organisation has said that it’s the overcrowding and long waiting periods for asylum processing that’s furthering stress and frustrations among migrants. And the precarious situation in some of the reception facilities on mainland Greece including security and overall protection is also a concern for them. Particularly where it concerns vulnerable groups like unaccompanied minors and single parents for instance.
Save the Children Greece has expressed similar concerns. Sacha Myers from the organisation has said that this has led to worrying expressions of violence with little recourse from authorities partly because there is confusion between who – the navy, the police or the army – is responsible for what.
Myers told me that “children have been caught up in violent protests, seen dead bodies in the camps, watched others attempt suicide, spent winter in flimsy tents and have had no access to formal education. None of this is normal or healthy for a child’s mental development.”
Human Rights Watch would agree. They themselves released a report warning of a looming mental health crisis. Trauma and psychological distress of war and exile is being exacerbated by the harsh conditions of camp life. They’ve blamed the unknown future, the appalling conditions and discriminatory EU policies, which decides asylum applications according to nationality, rather than individual cases.
And this perceived preferential treatment is part of the toxicity that harnesses ethnic tensions and the resulting communal violence.
That’s an environment no European government should be tolerating let alone harnessing.
Under the EU-Turkey deal however, people have been stuck on the islands in tents or behind barbed wire with no seeming end in sight. They don’t know if they’ll be sent back, or go on elsewhere. They’re stuck in political stagnation formulated by European policies. So, when we talk about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean or a summer influx and panic breaks out. The real crisis isn’t on our TV screens, it’s being endured everyday by those stuck on the island.