Chios braves the storm, as refugees keep landing on Greece’s shores

Chios braves the storm, as refugees keep landing on Greece’s shores

Half-buried in the sand of Karfas village’s broad, popular beach lies one of the few visible signs of the drama that has played out on the eastern Aegean island of Chios over the past year: the remains of two torn and deflated dinghies by the water’s edge.

Far from the spotlight of publicity, locals, authorities and aid groups have been dealing with an unprecedented wave of refugees and migrants reaching the island’s shores from Turkey, which lies less than four miles away at its closest point.

And with few signs of a let-up in the flow, authorities are bracing for another potentially brutal year.

Even during the winter, overloaded dinghies have continued to reach Greek islands in droves, halting only when the sea is too rough.

The crossing is brief but perilous, and hundreds have died.

Chios is one of the most-used points of entry for migrants and refugees entering Greece, behind Lesbos, the most commonly used.

Last year, the number of people arriving on Chios skyrocketed to nearly 120,000, with the largest numbers in September and October.

Chios’s Mayor Manolis Vournous said the huge spike in numbers is something islanders mustn’t have to face becoming accustomed to.

Last year’s late surge left authorities scrambling to house, feed and provide basic care for thousands of men, women and children who had just survived dangerous sea journey and were anxious to move on northwards through the Balkans to more prosperous European countries.

Following an initial struggle, Chios has weathered the storm remarkably well, emerging as somewhat of a success story.

The island now has a functioning system which aims to process new arrivals through registration as fast and as painlessly as possible, provide safe and clean temporary shelter and allow them to quickly move on.

This is primarily a result of the close relationship that has emerged between local civil authorities, the police, coastguard, local and foreign volunteers and non-governmental organizations operating on Chios, members of all say.

One volunteer, Despina Kalaitzidaki, who helps at a makeshift clothes distribution center, said she was compelled to help after seeing the anxious and desperate state the migrants and refugees were arriving in.

As winter set in, the island’s temporary tent camp for new arrivals in a park seemed wholly inadequate. So authorities decided to build the Souda camp in the dry moat of Chios town’s medieval castle.

The space was free and the moat allowed easy access for refugees and migrants to the nearby port for ferries.

The 800-person camp began operating in early November, complete with prefabricated houses reserved for the most vulnerable such as unaccompanied children, the disabled, women alone or with young children.

One of the camp’s residents is Isam Bukamer, a 22-year-old from Libya.

He’s hopeful that Chios, and the Souda camp, will be only the first part of his journey.

Nothing is impossible, he says. “I can pass to Germany. I have a go.”


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