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'They've turned Greece into a massive refugee camp...' TWO years ago the world was shocked by the sight of refugees and migrants arriving on Greek islands, adding to Greece's woes at a time when it was forced to renegotiate its debts. Chief reporter Martin Shipton previews an S4C programme which shows the problem hasn't gone away...

AGRANDMOTHER says she's been shocked to discover the terrible conditions faced by thousands of refugees stranded on Greece's islands and that the crisis that hit the headlines in 2015 is far from over.

Caron Dukes, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, has travelled out to the islands of Leros and Samos with S4C's current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar two years after volunteering there when thousands of refugees were fleeing daily across the sea from Turkey.

But the situation, she says, is no better now: "They've turned Greece into a massive refugee camp and it just isn't fair."

More than 10,000 refugees are currently trapped on the Greek islands - many held for months and some for more than a year - in what are supposed to be temporary reception and identification centres for those who land on Greek shores. However, many refugees refer to them as "prisons" and are concerned about conditions there.

One of those is Majida Ali, a 40-year-old journalist from Syria. She says that she fled Damascus after being persecuted by the Assad regime and arrived on the island of Samos in April this year. "I left prison but I arrived in another prison," she said. "The same uniforms, the same shouting, the same faces. No humanity, no respect, nothing."

The refugee camp in Samos is severely overcrowded and many refugees have to live in tents outside the camp's boundaries, some with nothing more than blankets as a makeshift shelter. Officially, the camp has enough space to accommodate 735 refugees but there are currently more than 2,000 on the island.

In March 2016 the EU decided that Greece's border with Europe should be closed for refugees and struck a deal with Turkey to improve policing of its waters to reduce the number of arrivals into Europe.

But in recent months the number of refugees arriving on Greek islands has gone up, from 1,156 in April this year to 4,866 in September, and the processing of refugees which enables them to move on from the islands has been too slow to keep up.

According to the Samos Volunteers, a charity working on the island, this is having a big impact on the availability of basic provisions like food, water and clothing.

But it is also leading to concerns about the safety of vulnerable people in the camps. On 26 September the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment raised concerns about conditions in the camps, saying that the situation was "highly explosive" with "increasing anxiety and frustration due to uncertainty about the future; a perception of insecurity; inadequate material conditions and severe overcrowding; lack of coordination of health-care services". Ms Ali says she herself doesn't feel safe in the camp. "Many incidents of rape have happened, for women and for kids. Of course we report it but no-one wants to speak out about this. The problem now is becoming worse and worse with all these people. Everyone is angry now because the situation is so bad."

Ms Dukes believes Europe should be doing more to help with the ongoing refugee crisis, and she is angry that EU countries, including the UK, have failed to meet their targets on receiving and rehoming refugees. The two-year programme, which ended last month, relocated fewer than a fifth of the planned 160,000 asylum seekers.

"I understand that there needs to be a processing system but there has got to be a way of speeding things up to get families out of this situation," she said.

"What would happen if the boot was on the other foot? We'd expect people to help us. Do what you're supposed to as people, for other people."

Other parts of Greece have also been affected, with refugees and migrants arriving not only on rickety boats from Turkey but by foot across the frontier between the two countries. Last month police announced that 37 refugees, including 19 children, from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, had been dumped by smugglers on the national highway outside Thessaloniki.

| Y Byd ar Bedwar will be broadcast on S4C at 9.30pm tonight.

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Caron Dukes

Majida Ali, a journalist from Syria, tells her story

Two years on and the refugee crisis on Greece's islands is no better, says Caron Dukes from Blaenau Ffestiniog
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Oct 17, 2017
Words:723
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