by Joanna Hudak
In Chios, the lockdown looms. It’s day five of the nation-wide lockdown in Greece and day twenty-nine for the Vial Refugee Camp.
Curfews and costly fines are the new order of the day, imposed to protect and safeguard. Yet the pervading sense is not one of safety. Not in Vial, not for asylum seekers.
The latest restrictive measures bring a fresh wave of despair to the 3000 people still residing there. Faced once more with the caustic absurdity of being required by law to 'social distance' in conditions lacking the most basic of infrastructures and services, let alone the space to do precisely this, residents of Vial express great concerns. One resident told me:
'As refugees, we're deeply stressed about the impact of COVID and the lockdown. People already have nothing, they now have even less, so the trauma continues. We can't go outside, we can't get access to food, the city, medication, or freedom. You are always hungry when you are there and they can only treat the sickest people. There will be more psychological problems: depression, frustration and fears.”
Over the recent weeks, false-positive tests, asymptomatic cases and shoddy contact tracing have cast widespread doubt over the efficacy and motivations of efforts to 'safeguard' the camp population. What little services - what little access - was still available to people is now gone. The measures, which should in theory protect, have only served to exacerbate vulnerability.
That these measures are negligent and ill-considered is merely a symptom of a much more profound and pervasive problem.
In Greece, a familiar hashtag circulates, it prefaces public service announcements and adorns the newspapers. If it does anything, the should-be heartening #ΜένουμεΑσφαλείς #WeStaySafe, epitomises the crux of the issue. It reinforces, with resounding and painful candour, the exclusivity of the 'we'. Those that are already safe, stay so. But those who are seeking safety, those who are seeking asylum? They remain marginalised and vulnerable because they do not belong to the 'we' whose safety has already been ensured.
For many, expectations and hopes of leaving 'hell' are dashed again by the painful reality of inevitable procedural delays. And yet, thanks to distance learning and online interactions with students, our volunteers still detect glimmers of hope amongst the frustrations. In a Europe often characterised by passivity and discrimination, and a migration policy which surely offers more cause for despair than hope, such burning optimism can only be innate.
Though the lockdown once again acts as a stark and chilling reminder of the inequalities within the borders of Europe and of the sentiments and policies which divide us into 'we' and 'they', our role here is more important than ever. We too must continue to hope and carry out our work in spite of this dark reality. We must work for a fairer and more compassionate Europe.
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