Last week felt like the majority of Europe’s attention is aimed in the opposite direction to Chios. As Britain voted to leave the EU, and as the Euro 2016 football tournament rumbles on in France, it might seem like that’s all that is going on in Europe… well, think again.
Back in March, 28 EU Heads of State forged a controversial deal with Turkey to attempt to stem the large flow of refugees who were accessing the EU through the Turkish borders. The EU pledged to pay €3 billion to Turkey, grant visa-free travel to Turkish nationals and speed up Turkish membership to the EU. All that was in exchange for Greece being allowed to return ‘all new irregular migrants’ to Turkey.
On the ground, in Chios, the situation continues to be difficult. We currently have a team there, working alongside the UNHCR, Praxis and Save the Children to help the most vulnerable refugees in the camps. But these camps are full, and there are few options for those who have made it this far.
Meanwhile the EU is trying to keep the deal with Turkey alive despite several hold ups in the bureaucracy on both sides, which puts into question the future and safety of any new refugees who attempt the crossing.
Last week, however, a boat carrying 55 refugees docked in the port of Vokarria, a town located on the southern shores of Chios. Our team witnessed first hand from a nearby watchtower as the refugees refused to be loaded onto the Frontex boat (clearly rumours of the ‘push-backs’ have reached them). The Frontex boat eventually lead the other into port, despite attempts from the Turkish coast guards to intervene.
The following night, two further boats full of refugees attempted to land on Chios. Only one was successful and we do not know the fate of the other.
As it stands, it is possible that we may see more boats begin to slip through again, as the EU and Turkey continue to use people as political pawns to pressurise each other into keeping the migrant deal alive.
Regardless of who makes it to Chios, Action from Switzerland will continue to work with the most vulnerable of the refugees, helping to make their life on Chios and their future in Europe an optimistic one. We rely on donations, so please consider helping us with our continued work.