Four refugees staying in Souda, one of three camps on the island of Chios, attempted to swim to Turkey on Monday after giving up on the near-static asylum process.
Dozens of people stood on the small shore just outside the camp and watched as the swimmers inched towards the Turkish city of Cesme. While it appears close, it’s in fact twenty-six kilometers removed from the central eastern shore of Chios, not accounting for oceanic currents.
A large proportion of people staying in the Chios camps arrived on March 20, some fifty days ago, and bureaucratic procedures have only slowly and laboriously been established. Interviews for the immense number of asylum applications have been delayed by local resistance to the import of containers by the European Asylum Support Office and lack of staff has plagued the First Reception Service, a Greek governmental organization.
Additionally, about 2000 refugees on the island are much more than the stated capacity to house them, which stands at 1100 souls. Even the stated capacity might be misleading, as problems with accommodation and provisions were described by refugees from the first day of the agreement between EU and Turkey on March 20. In mid-April, on the neighboring island of Samos, numerous people were camped on the concrete floors of the hotspot even as the inhabitants were said to number well below the hotspot’s stated capacity of 850.
The combination of overcrowding, idle waiting, political uncertainty, security issues and insufficient food have kept people’s mood simmering for weeks. While recent days have seen fewer protests than the end of March and beginning of April, refugees have grown more despondent. “We are treated like animals,” a man in Vial, the hotspot on Chios, said on April 30, a sentiment widely echoed.
The refugees who tried swimming to Turkey were spotted by volunteers from Drops in the Ocean, a Norwegian charity, who called the Hellenic Coast Guard. Two speedboats picked up the four swimmers, who were equipped with life-vests, and brought them to shore. They had barely gotten out of the harbor in the half-hour they were in the ocean, but that did not seem to deter some of the people watching. “Tomorrow we will also try,” they said as the boats disappeared from sight.