One of Marlow Refugee Action’s strongest links is with the Greek island of Samos where several people from Marlow have previously volunteered. Located just 5km from Turkey in the Aegean Sea, at its peak over 7000 people lived there in squalid conditions in a camp built for just 700.
However, in 2021 the Vathy camp was closed. Most refugees were moved to mainland Greece, those remaining were relocated to a new controlled access centre (CCAC) in a remote location called Zervou. The NGO Samos Volunteers continues to support refugees with a free shop, laundry services, workshops, language classes and sports activities. They also provide safe spaces for women and girls.
Recently the camp population has been rising due to new arrivals and in September 2022 stood at nearly 800. Controlled access camps have devastating impacts on the mental health of residents, including anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.
From August 2018 to December 2021, Marlow Refugee Action provided funding to enable the set up and continued operation of a legal centre which remains a core element to the voluntary work on the island, helping provide free and independent legal counselling to assist refugees in navigating the Greek asylum procedure. Supplemented by volunteer lawyers from The Refugee Law Clinic Berlin and Avocats sans Frontières, help was given via workshops on the asylum process, individual counselling and support ahead of asylum interviews and family reunification cases.
I Have Rights was established as an independent organisation in June 2021 and started operating in Samos in February 2022, taking over the legal centre from the umbrella organisation Refugee Law Clinic Berlin. Their aim is to have a positive impact towards ensuring human rights are upheld for people seeking asylum on Samos, in Greece, and in Europe, both as individuals and as an organisation. The changes that they make are intended to be of good quality and have an immediate/ short-term impact.
I Have Rights, through their activities, aims to achieve the following three goals:
- Ensure the right to asylum
- Eliminate push-backs
- Fight against all detention of migrants and refugees
As well as direct help for asylum seekers, I Have Rights carry out advocacy activities on behalf of refugees. They target a number of audiences, both national and international, including political actors, media and social media.
MRA are funding the rent and utility costs for their office in Samos for the 2022 calendar year. The office enables confidential face to face meetings and offers them a chance to meet their legal team and lawyer outside of the camp and in a safe space. Arrivals in Samos are increasing, despite ‘push-backs’ You can learn more about their work on their website.
Human Rights Legal Project (HRLP)
As detailed above, MRA has had a connection with human rights organisations operating on the Greek island of Samos since we started and has funded legal and education projects out there in the past. Ensuring that people “on the move” have access to legal advice and support is critical, as is making sure that governments abide by their obligations under international laws, such as the UN Refugee Convention.
HRLP focuses on human rights abuses at the hands of the Greek authorities and has particular expertise in criminalisation work. They have established a legal referral pathway in Samos for refugees and migrants who wish to make a complaint, seek legal redress or be represented in their hearing. Cases HRLP are involved in include denial of access to essential health care services, unlawful detention, lack of access to fair trial, police brutality, ensuring access to the asylum procedures.
In summer 2022 MRA formed a partnership with this Samos-based organisation and we are funding rent and bills for an office space for HLRP in Vathy town so that HRLP can carry out their work in an appropriate environment. We look forward to receiving reports from HRLP showing the impact our funding has had on their work.
To learn more about life on the front line, you can take a look through Tom’s blog documenting his time in Greece or if video is more your thing, check out this 2 minute clip in which Jasmine shares her experiences of Samos.
Inspired to join the cause? Drop us an email to see what we’re currently working on.