In a remote part on the beautiful Greek island Samos, you will find long rows of pale grey houses, each with a number, stretching as far as your eye can see.
They are sparse buildings that are guarded by armed police and where the residents have no escape options.
This is a camp for migrants with a difference. It has strict rules and a loudspeaker blasts messages in multiple languages to the inmates about meal times.
The camp is situated at the edge the European Union and is less that a mile from Turkey’s east Aegean Sea.
The 375 people who arrived this week expected a warmer welcome from the West: a hotel or a free place to live, perhaps schooling for their kids, and state handouts. They found that their dream was far from reality.
A migrant camp on the Greek island of Samos is protected by razor fence and police. It is a model that could soon be copied in Britain. ‘This is the model of migrant camp that England hopes to copy
Up until this summer, the island was ruled by 9,000 migrants. They lived in a rat-infested shanty village without lights, hot water or sanitation right beside Samos’s capital, until it was bulldozed and most of the inhabitants sent to Athens
The Home Secretary Priti Patel (Pictured) visits a migrant centre in Greece. She hopes to bring the regime in Britain.
The camp is located at the edge the European Union and is less that a mile from Turkey’s east Aegean sea (Pictured).
To stop fighting between factions that accuse each other racism and use fists or worse for solving differences, the camp is divided into three colour-coded zones: Afghans (blue), Africans and Arabs (green). Only migrant workers can leave the camp if they use fingerprints to pass through the steel-turnstile checkpoints. This allows camp authorities to know where they are at any given time.
They are counted at night and each migrant is vetted for security reasons.
It is a system that could soon be available in Britain. ‘This is the model of migrant camp that England hopes to copy.
‘Your Home Secretary Priti Patel has come here to see it for herself,’ says Demitrius Axiotis, the 56-year-old former Greek army officer who runs what is called the closed control access centre on Samos.
‘In three or four months we will have 3,000 migrants living here and we will be full. We are expecting Afghans fleeing the Taliban to arrive very soon on the traffickers’ boats from Turkey to Samos. They will be brought here and treated just the same as all the others.’
The camp is divided in three zones according to colour: Afghans (blue), Africans and Arabs are separated to stop fighting between the factions who accuse one another of racism and use fists to resolve differences.
Up to 20,000 migrants are expected arrive by boat on our south coast from France by 2021
The Daily Mail was the first British newspaper that visited the controversial camp. It was built to stem the migrant flows from Turkey, where four million people are still waiting to illegally enter Greece. The European Union has placed a prominent-looking sign outside of the impressive structure to make it clear that this is not a holiday camp. Over the next year, more Greek islands in the east Aegean will also open ‘closed’ camps, with the EU footing the £200 million bill.
The camp was created on Samos out of necessity. The island was home to 9,000 migrants, who had control of it until this summer. They lived in a rat-infested shanty village without lights, hot water or sanitation right beside Samos’s capital, until it was bulldozed and most of the inhabitants sent to Athens.
Mr Axiotis says for years there were more migrants in Samos’s main town than its 6,000 residents. ‘That was not right,’ he explains. ‘It was not fair on Samos people and we had to think about their safety. Greece is a devoutly Christian country and the islanders worried the boats coming to the island were carrying strangers.’
However, not everyone sees things this way. Patrick Wieland, Samos field coordinator of humanitarian charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (“Doctors Without Borders”), believes the new camp to be little more than a prison. ‘It is a fortress stopping escape,’ he says at his small office in Samos’s port. ‘It is there to contain migrants and actively deter others from coming over from Turkey. It is criminalising people who have done nothing wrong and want only to make fresh lives in Europe.’
So could this Greek island’s authoritarian style of camp really be a possible solution for England’s own migrant crisis? The answer could be yes, it seems. Around 20,000 migrants are expected arrive by boat on our south coast from France by 2021. Many of the migrants are already in hotels that have been paid for by taxpayers. It is a situation that can’t go on forever. That is why the Home secretary came to Samos camp in August to meet with Mr Axiotis.
The European Union has placed a sign outside the impressive structure, which clearly states that this is not a holiday camp. Over the next year, more Greek islands in the east Aegean will also open ‘closed’ camps, with the EU footing the £200 million bill
A Nationality and Borders Bill currently is in Parliament. It has the same purpose of helping real refugees and weeding them out. If it is approved next year, it is expected that the new camps will be high up on the agenda.
It was still six weeks before it opened, but Ms Patel looked at floor plans, toured site under construction, and was told about the ultra-secure deportation wings, to be completed by Christmas for inmates who have been rejected for asylum in Europe. They also had no right of stay.
According to Mr Axiotis she heard how the Greek coastguard pushes back migrants at sea towards Turkey. This is a contentious strategy about to be introduced in the Channel by the British using Border Force jetski teams to push boats towards northern France. The Home Office believes Samos camps on British soil would make the UK less attractive and decrease illegal Channel crossings.
It is hard to imagine anyone living in such a camp. To make their money, people-smuggling groups tell the story that England is a land of soft touch, milk and honey. They claim that migrants can be immediately placed in four-star accommodation or a house in the council without asking questions.
People falsely seeking asylum would find the prospect of being held in a prison-like castle with swift deportations and thorough vetting less appealing.
‘Camps like Samos would make Britain a safer place for everyone, including the genuine asylum seekers who deserve our help,’ Home Office sources have told us.
The Nationality and Borders Bill currently is in Parliament. It has the same goal of helping genuine refugees and weeding the rest. If it is approved next year, the new camps are expected to be on the agenda shortly thereafter.
Samos was a place where we spoke to migrants about their experiences in camp life. Most of them were there because they had been repeatedly denied asylum in Greece. They are deeply upset that they have been prevented from travelling to Germany, Scandinavia or the Netherlands or, their favourite, England.
We found hut 126 in an Arab zone. This was home to a four-member Iraqi Kurd family that had lived in the Samos jungle camp for five year until it was removed in September. Now they are in a two-bedroom hut with a kitchen, bathroom and never-ending hot water from the camp’s solar power system. They are not content with their situation.
Most refugees are held in the Greek camp (Above), because they have been denied asylum in Greece repeatedly. They are very upset that they were stopped from traveling to Germany, Scandinavia or the Netherlands, or England, as well as other countries.
This camp is for migrants with a difference. Its rules are rigid and the loudspeaker blasts messages in multiple languages to the inmates about meal times.
‘I am angry,’ says the 40-year-old father Mahamad Mahamad. ‘I came to Greece by boat from Turkey and I want my 12-year-old daughter and son to have a good school and us a good house. This is what Nyaz and I expected from Europe. We were told this by the trafficking agents that we had paid to get here. We are now stuck, and the Greeks have taken us to this prison. They have locked us up. No-one tells us where we will go next or when we will be free.’
His bright-as-a-button daughter chirps up in perfect English learned from the internet: ‘It is not fair. I want to be educated and make my way in Greece. This is no home for me or my three-year-old brother.’
If the camp’s deportation wing was open, there’s no doubt this family would be under lock and key inside it. Their asylum application has been rejected by Greece four times. They should be returned to Turkey under EU rules from the point they arrived in Europe. Turkey, however, says it is overwhelmed with migrants and can’t take more. It is also at odds with Athens, as it claims that Greece is forcing asylum-seekers back to Turkey by using brutal tactics at sea or on land that endanger the lives and safety of women and children.
Mail received videos from refugee charities that show shocking footage of Greek coastguard vessels chasing boats away by firing gunshots into their waters and using long metal sticks and guns to hit migrants and prod their boats. It is not only dangerous for migrants in the water, but also when they reach land on Samos and other Greek Aegean Islands, it can be even more dangerous. They hide in woods to avoid Greek police. Charities say they use unorthodox or strong methods to force them onto coastguard boat. It has been reported that they sail towards Turkey, leaving them on life-rafts in middle of the ocean.
A long row of pale grey huts are surrounded by a tall fence of razor wire in a remote area of Samos, a pretty Greek island. Each hut has a number and stretches as far as the eye can (Above).
One vivid tale has emerged about a sailor riding on a Greek coastguard ship shouting at migrants that the boat had taken aboard in the east Aegean. This was supposed to take them to safety in Lesbos, an isolated island located 100 miles from Samos. ‘Get the f*** out of here, you don’t belong here,’ the sailor said, before tossing a life raft into the sea and shoving 34-year-old Afghan, Khalid, into it.
Soon to follow was Khalid’s wife, his seven-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son, and 14 others, left bobbing in the sea without life-jackets, before being found by Turks four hours later. ‘We were screaming and crying, wet and shivering from the cold and rough waters. My daughter was bleeding because her teeth broke when the sailor pushed her into the dinghy,’ said Khalid, now living in Istanbul, Turkey, of his family’s terrifying experience in July.
The United Nations has documented 450 cases of ‘pushbacks’ by the Greek coastguard this year and says they are legally dubious. ‘Yet it has now become a routine, almost weekly event,’ says Mireille Girard, the director of the UN refugee agency in Greece. ‘In the past we mainly had mid-sea interceptions with migrant boats being stripped of their engines then nudged or towed back to Turkish waters. Now we find people being plucked off Greek soil by the authorities and then bundled up, and tossed into life rafts towards Turkey in tactics that are turning more violent.’
These pushbacks are often dismissed by the Greeks as fake news. This week, however, we were presented with evidence from 27 migrants who vanished after arriving on a fragile boat on Diaporti (off Samos) on Monday. When they landed, the migrants sent photographs of their bodies along with their location data to charity Aegean Boat Report.
They were soon begging for help from a Greek coastguard cutter, and police arrived. They feared being forced back to Turkey.
‘Several new arrivals reported that the coastguard sailors were shooting guns towards them from a Lambro 57 vessel which was also in the migrants’ photographs,’ the charity’s spokesman said.
‘We also received voice messages from the migrants where you can hear shots being fired.’
The charity lost contact with them at 8.25am after the migrants’ phones suddenly went dead. It is believed that they were turned off by the Greek police. It added: ‘We hope that this group were taken to the Samos camp and not pushed back to sea to be left drifting in life rafts like so many before them.’
The Mail has confirmed that they didn’t arrive at the camp on that day. If they survive another pushback by the Greek authorities, they will likely be back in Turkey.
The truth is that no one knows where they’re at the moment. ‘We have not heard from them since the phones stopped,’ the charity spokesman said 48 hours later.
A separate group of 26 Africans (and Arabs) arrived at the camp late Monday afternoon, including a girl, five, three babies, and two pregnant women. They had been found near Samos’s seaside town of Potami at 9.30am after getting on a boat from Turkey.
Doctors Without Borders was informed that they needed assistance as they tried to hide from the coastguards. The charity sent a medical team in to help them. ‘We then alerted the police, as we have a duty to do, and waited and watched to see they were collected safely,’ says Mr Wieland. To take a bus from town to the camp, migrants must pay one euro. Not everyone has this amount. They must return to the camp by 8 p.m. or they will be punished for violating the rules.
‘The curfew is to make the people of Samos feel safer,’ says Mr Axiotis. ‘Those who disobey it have been told what to expect. They are given a verbal warning the first time, followed by a formal letter the second and third times. The third time they are grounded they will be held indefinitely in the camp. We may have an obligation to the migrants, but they have to understand they have an obligation to Greece while they are here.’
As Mr Axiotis demonstrates, it is clear that migrants do not like the rules. A young Syrian man in his thirties walks up to us waving a piece paper that shows he is grounded for repeatedly violating curfew.
As if in prayer, he pressed his hands together as if begging for mercy. The commander seems to be able to overlook all this dramatic behavior. He tells the Syrian that he will talk to someone else.
‘We will never stop migrants altogether,’ he admits. ‘But we think this camp has already deterred some from coming.’ As we face a migration crisis threatening to run out of control, Ms Patel thinks a camp of this kind in Britain can do exactly the same.