Big Changes for the Refugee and NGO populations on the Greek islands

Last week the newly elected Greek government issued an announcement describing sweeping changes to the current refugee management on the Aegean islands. They will clear out everyone in the overflowing camps on Lesvos and Samos, sort people into groups that will get asylum and groups that will be sent back (to where I’m not sure), the latter being held in closed camps. Moria camp will be emptied and another camp will be built in another location. Unaccompanied minors will be placed in a separate location. They say they will speed up the asylum process, which can take 18 months now, and work to prevent and discourage future refugees from attempting to cross the sea.

Everyone is even more anxious and nervous than before, awaiting the news of their fates. This week two women that I teach got their papers. One went to Crete, one to the vicinity of Athens. They are middle-aged, and know nothing about where they are going or why. Yesterday we drove past Moria camp and scores of people were at the entrance with their bundles of things, waiting for transport to the ferry to Athens.

I can’t help comparing it in my mind to the people in Nazi Germany being led to the trains. Although their fates will not be death chambers, they will be sent to unknown and often undesirable locations, isolated from towns and with nothing to do. My heart breaks for them. Moria is awful, but people are free to come and go, take classes and find recreational activities, shop in town, swim and fish in the sea. I fear that the next step will not have the same opportunities. And for those who are considered unqualified for asylum, detention centers will be their homes until they are sent away; back to the dangerous conditions they fled.

The NGOS that I have described on this blog are also waiting apprehensively, to see what steps they will have to make to adapt to the new conditions. Some may move, some may be finished altogether. Of course these announcements damage fund raising efforts as well.

People say that announcements like these have been declared before, and nothing changes. But they also say that this time feels different. This time more specifics have been outlined, and the new government needs to make good on campaign promises. Needless to say, everyone is holding their breath and awaiting what happens next.

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