‘Europe’s dirty secret’: officials on Chios scramble to cope with rising tensions
Frustration mounts among locals on the Greek island, where refugees feel like prisoners with no hope of getting to mainland Europe
On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkeys western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure.
Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. You could say geography brought me here, said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.
Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx of more than 850,000 refugees arriving in the country in 2015 was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers coming in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores.
On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial it is anger that hangs in the air.
Greeces Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead.
Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread, says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europes fixation to keep immigrants out, he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.