Stuck in Greek snow, refugees already miss dismal camps

Stuck in Greek snow, refugees already miss dismal camps
Stuck in Greek snow, refugees already miss dismal camps

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - VASILITSA, GREECE - Sitting in the lobby of a disused ski lodge on a northern Greek mountain, Congolese asylum-seeker Sylva Caumba blankly stares at the unfamiliar snow outside.

"I would have preferred staying in Moria," the 30-year-old says with a touch of desperation, referring to the dismal camp on the Greek island of Lesbos which is packed six times beyond its official capacity.

"At least there, we had contact with the outside world. Here it feels like an open prison," he adds.

Caumba was transported to the ski lodge at Vasilitsa -- at an altitude of 1,000 meters, and 45 kilometers from the nearest town of Grevena -- around two months ago with his wife and two children.

Bears and wolves are more common than humans in this area.

The facility, which has seen better days and was about to shut down during Greece's economic crisis, currently hosts 116 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Syria.

"We wake up, we watch TV and we go back to sleep. This is no way to live," says 20-year-old former footballer Mabika Zordel, also from DR Congo.

Nuredin Intze, a 38-year-old from Somalia, agrees that "things were better" in a similarly overcrowded camp on the Greek Aegean island of Leros.

"The hours do not pass. How can you live with nothing to do? All that is left is to hope that something will change," says the former professional driver.

The Africans' plight is part of a broader conundrum facing Greece's beleaguered migration authorities.

In summer and autumn, the number of asylum-seekers arriving from Turkey on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros steadily increased, cramming people into overcrowded facilities at record levels.

According to government figures, there are now over 40,000 people on these islands, with more than 37,000 of them in camps built to handle just over 6,000.

Amid rising anger on the islands, the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently promised to relocate 20,000 asylum-seekers to other facilities on the mainland by the end of the year.

But the plan has run into objections and protests in several towns in other parts of Greece earmarked to house additional asylum-seekers.

In October, a hotel owner in the town of Vrasna near Thessaloniki said she had received arson threats after agreeing to temporarily host a group of asylum-seekers.

Running out of options, authorities have occasionally been forced to resort to out-of-the-box thinking.

In November, another group of asylum-seekers were taken to an abandoned Orthodox monastery in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

Within moments, most of them had asked to be relocated elsewhere. -AFP

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