Blocked at a camp in Greece's Samos, refugees demand legal justice

A panorama view of the migrant and refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos
A panorama view of the migrant and refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos

On the Greek Island of Samos, refugees have been on strike since the start of September. Protests began when one refugee died after not receiving cancer treatment. Inhabitants of the refugee camp say that there is little access to any medical resources, even essential treatments. A French lawyer who visited the Samos refugee camp herself confirmed these testimonies and documented the situation with images.

Located by the port of Vathy, on the Greek island of Samos, the migrant and refugee camp is intended to host 648 people. There are currently 4,600, according to Kathimerini, a Greek publication. Due to overcrowding, many inhabitants of the camp are denied access to basic resources or essential medical treatment, according to Marguerite Compin is a French lawyer who represents two asylum seekers at the camp. The treatment of refugees at the Samos camp is a violation of human rights, and Compin is bringing a case against the Greek state to the European Court of Human Rights (CEDH).. From August 19 to 22, Compin visited the camp. She shared photos and videos of conditions on the Greek island with the FRANCE 24 Observers team.

Compin filmed this video at the end of August when she arrived in Samos to meet her clients.

“Medical visits only take place when you are on the brink of death. It's a prison.”

Photo of a refugee protesting in Samos. Courtesy of Marguerite Compin

Migrants went on strike to denounce the death of one [of the migrants] from cancer. This Cameroonian gentleman was passed over without care. His lawyer unsuccessfully requested to examine his file. There was no response from camp officials. No response from the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is so common that this has become banal.

People are still on strike. Several sick people were examined and told they needed an operation, but they never had that operation. It was scheduled six times, but they are still untreated and still unsuccessful.

I am a lawyer for two sick migrants. I did not have access to their files. I went to Samos because I hoped to have the opportunity to talk to someone. 

Images that Compin took of living conditions in Samos.


These are images that I took myself on the island. The living conditions in this camp are in violation of EU laws. The photos I took clearly demonstrate this. Asylum seekers live in tents. In the winter and summer. Medical visits only occur when you are on the brink of death. During my entire time in Samos, I did not see proper food distribution. Food was spoiled.

The children were taken out of school. The refugee commissariat said that it is not possible to send children to school.

Another very worrying thing is that these people do not have access to interpreters. In the camp, everything is written in Greek. When a refugee goes to the hospital for treatment, everything is in Greek. There is no interpreter, although most of the people in this camp are French-speaking or English-speaking. 

It's a prison. The asylum seekers are in a prison even though they have not been tried. It takes two or even three years to be seen. My client was taken there to Samos on October 16, 2019.

Compin documented the spoiled food served the people in the camp.


The high population increased delays for processing, leaving many asylum-seekers stuck on Samos for an indefinite amount of time. Samos is located just two kilometres from the Turkey border. Due to a 2016 EU accord with Turkey, any irregular migrants who cross on Greek islands from Turkey will be returned to Turkey. This agreement causes camps on islands such as Samos to essentially become “refugee processing centres".

“It is a violation of rights, of the law, quite simply. This place, this camp, is a lawless zone.”


Compin documented the conditions of the camp because she is bringing the case in front of the European court of human rights, most likely by the end of September. The lack of medical treatment and delays in processing violate European law.

I'm referring to the laws in Europe and Greece. There is a commissariat for refugees. There are rules in Europe rules for welcoming refugees. There are rules in Europe regarding detention [time limits]. When we have a file, authorities must give us access to our client's file. I am a lawyer.

It is a violation of rights, of the law, quite simply. This place, this camp, is a lawless zone.

I will bring the case against the Greek state to the European Court of Human Rights. And I will go back [to Samos] and demand to see my clients’ files in order to see why they have not been selected [for asylum]. I am committed to the end.

As with other Greek Aegean islands, Samos used to be a popular tourist destination, but the migration crisis in 2015 brought more than 911,000 refugees and migrants into Europe, with many arriving first on islands in Greece. Today, the Aegean islands continue to house large refugee camps.

Fires at migrant camps recently brought the migrant and refugee humanitarian crisis on Greek Aegean islands back into international spotlight. The massive fire that devastated the Moria migrant camp in Lesbo on September 8 left more than 4,000 children and 8,000 adults without any form of shelter or sanitation. Just over a week later, a new fire burned next to the Vathy migrant and refugee camp on the island of Samos on September 15. Firefighters were able to control this recent blaze, but it was the third fire of 2020 at a Samos migrant camp. In April, two fires left 200 migrants and refugees homeless.

On April 28, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis announced that he plans to close the Samos migrant camp by the end of 2020. 

Article written by Sophie Stuber