Nearly two months after the implementation of the EU-Turkey deportation deal, refugees are packed into camps on Greek islands. Those who have a shot at asylum wait. Others risk their lives by trying to swim away.
It has been 45 days since Mahmoud Alo arrived on the Greek island of Chios. The young Syrian from Damascus wanted to join his mother and three brothers in northern Germany. Instead, he was put in a detention camp called Vial.
People who have stayed longer than 25 days are able to leave the camp, but that does not change much. "It's an island," Alo said. "You cannot get very far." Sometimes he goes to the nearby village to buy food. What he gets to eat at Vial is awful.
"The conditions at the camps are terrible," Doctors of the World spokeswoman Maria Lavida said. She is currently stationed at the Souda camp in Chios City. However, she also has information about Vial. "Both camps are overcrowded, hygiene is bad, and there is no more room for new people arriving," she said.
With its closed borders and severe conditions, Greece seems like the last place refugees would attempt to transit. "The Turks do not inform them that the borders are closed," Lavida said. "They tell them that the conditions are perfect. They just want to send them to Greece."
Something similar happened to Alo. "I knew that the borders were closed, but I was told that Syrians would be able to go on, especially since I already have family in Europe," Alo said. When this turned out not to be the case, Alo applied for asylum. That was 35 days ago. "I received a number, but nobody has called me since," he said. "I don't have any information about what will happen now and when." In the camps, he said, people speculate a lot. There is no official information - only Facebook and Twitter.
Mohammad Karim Toryalai, from Afghanistan, arrived right after the EU's deportation deal with Turkey went into effect. "I was the first person at the camp," Toryalai said. It took him a month to travel to Greece from Afghanistan to Pakistan via Iran and then Turkey. Toryalai's pioneering arrival at Chios had one positive aspect: His asylum application was processed relatively quickly.
The more people arrived at Vial, the more overstrained the authorities became. "We only have two people here doing interviews," Toryalai said. "Two people for 2,000 refugees. If they continue like this, people have to stay here six months or a year. The camp's conditions are definitely not sufficient for a long-term stay." His uncle and cousin arrived after him. They are still waiting for their interviews.
Desperate escape efforts
Tired of waiting, some people have considered returning to Turkey to find another way to the more northern parts of the European Union. Alo said he had heard of six or seven families with such a plan. The German news agency DPA reported that some people even tried to swim the 10 miles (16 kilometers) to Turkey earlier this week. The five Moroccans and one Algerianhad become extremely desperate after being informed that they did not qualify for asylum. Lifeguards pulled them back into boats. They could have drowned.
Many refugees will not move to other camps in Greece because they are scared that they could be tricked and deported, Lavida said. Since the beginning of April, there have been no more official deportations to Turkey, she added. Lavida believes that the Turkish government stopped the process to pressure the EU on visa-free travel - a condition of the agreement.
Toryalai does not have to worry about deportation anymore. "I just received my official approval for asylum today," he said. "I can now go to Athens to fill out some papers." Toryalai hopes that his cousin and uncle will soon be able to join him. For now all they can do is wait.