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How this Greek island proves European migrant crisis isn’t over

Right-wing nationalists are expected to do well in upcoming elections for the European Parliament, in part due to voter weariness over mass immigration. The European Union says the migration crisis that began four years ago is over, as new arrivals have dwindled dramatically. But as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, on the Greek island of Samos, the problem may be worse than ever.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Threats from the Middle East are changing the politics of Europe.

    This Thursday, right-wing nationalist parties are expected to do well in E.U. elections. Their support is largely driven by voters weary of mass immigration.

    The European Union says the migration crisis is over, with dwindling numbers of new arrivals.

    But, as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, on the Greek island of Samos, the crisis is far from over. Perhaps it's worse than ever.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Welcome to what they call the Jungle. The uninitiated might think that, after four years, this front-line island would, by now, have the infrastructure to cope with the influx, especially as the European Union has given Greece over $1.5 billion.

    But according to refugee support groups, the squalor is worse than ever.

    How are you doing?

  • Cynthia James:

    It's too bad. We're sleeping in tents. Snakes, wolves, wild animals, every night come here, and shouting. It's too bad.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Iyad Jebril from Gaza landed six months ago, and says he's been told it could take two years for his asylum application to be heard. He fears this shack will be an open prison cell for the duration.

  • Iyad Jebril:

    I think the pictures is more clear than anything can I say. We have bad conditions here, no doctors, no good food, no bathroom. We can't sleep very well. The place here is not for humans. The animal run away from this place.

    No good. Samos no good. Food no good. Police no good.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Four years after the European migration crisis began, people are still coming across these waters in their flimsy boats, despite the poor conditions in the Greek islands, and the fact that most of them will not be able to leave Greece, and people are still dying out there.

    While we have been here, a boat carrying three Afghan families capsized. The Turkish Coast Guard say they recovered the bodies of five children and four women. Two other people are presumed to have drowned.

  • Man (through translator):

    How are you?

  • Man (through translator):

    I'm well.

  • Man (through translator):

    What's your name?

  • Man (through translator):

    My name is Amjad.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Kareem Eshtewi fled Gaza to escape the Hamas administration.

  • Man:


  • Man:


  • Man:

    Means good morning.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    He's learning French, but has little chance of reaching France, because Greece's frontiers have remained sealed to asylum seekers for over three years.

  • Kareem Eshtewi (through translator):

    We came here to serve the countries which will save us.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Samos' burden is disproportionate to its size, due to its geography and because Greece's northern land border is closed to migrants.

    The island and its 33,000 inhabitants are just five miles from the Turkish coast. The official camp, run by the state, is supposed to accommodate 700. But as many as 4,000 live behind and outside the barbed wire above Samos' main town, Vathy.

    There are 40 nationalities here. Most are African.

    Bogdan Andrei runs a group called Samos Volunteers.

  • Bogdan Andrei:

    People are saying that, intentionally, the conditions are kept like this, so it's a deterrent for new people to arrive, which is cruel. It's inhumane. How can you say that we are going to keep people living in squalor, in inhumane conditions just to deter other people from coming?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Miltiadis Klapas heads the Migration Ministry, which is responsible for allocating the E.U.'s $1.5 billion handout in refugee aid.

    Where has that money gone?

  • Miltiadis Klapas (through translator):

    A big part of this money went to the construction of facilities, approximately 34 in total, including the reception and identification centers across Greece.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Do you think it's acceptable, four years into the crisis, for those people who are arriving in Samos to be living in those conditions?

  • Miltiadis Klapas (through translator):

    Everyone who criticizes today the not-so-good conditions in some of the facilities forget that Europe today doesn't contribute to resolving this issue.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A day center run by the volunteers offers temporary respite for asylum seekers, who are bored, frustrated, and angry at being trapped on the island.

  • Hamza Abash:

    Some Greeks, they treat you bad. I'm sorry to say, you are Greek, like racist, because we are black. Some even close their nose when they see you come. It's very bad.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    At the day center, women escape the pressure cooker of the Jungle. There are almost as many migrants in the camp as there are Greek residents in the main town. Volunteers praise the people of Samos for their generosity.

    But spokeswoman Agus Olivieri, a former political adviser in Argentina, warns that the islanders' mood is changing.

  • Agus Olivieri:

    They're tired. They're frustrated. They have been left alone by their government, just as much as the government has left alone the refugees. So, in a way, the tensions are growing and the tensions are getting quite high.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    It's the migrant children who are on the front line. Poor living conditions in the Jungle are being used by some Greek parents to try to stop migrant children going to school. They have erected banners telling them to stay away. They fear disease and that some may be violent because of the trauma they have endured.

    Sonia Paschalaki is the parents' representative.

  • Sonia Paschalaki (through translator):

    Once the living conditions improve, once proper accommodation is provided for these people, dignified, humane accommodation, then we will be happy for them to come to school to learn and become educated.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    With echoes of the 1950s integration battles in the Deep South, a handful of migrant children turned up for class, freshly scrubbed, smartly dressed, enthusiastic. Most of the Greek children had left for the day.

    Speaking on their families' behalf is Majida Ali, a Syrian granted asylum in Greece who has stayed on Samos to help her fellow refugees.

  • Majida Ali:

    One hundred percent, it is really important for them, because they start building their future. And without education, they cannot continue this building.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But teacher Marco Pecconi believes some form of segregation is necessary.

  • Marco Pecconi:

    There are structure, existing structures, where they could be taught in a separate way, because definitely the level — you can't teach, let's say, someone who doesn't know Greek the same way you teach someone who knows Greek, definitely, is it not?

    So what do we finish by teaching? Sign language or just doing drawing in the last class of primary school? If the goal is to reduce the level in general of education, there's no better way to do it.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Across the E.U., far-right parties are expected to prosper during May's election for the European Parliament.

    Ioannis Lagos is one of several lawmakers from Golden Dawn, who's on trial on charges of belonging to a criminal organization that conducted attacks on immigrants.

    Despite accusations against what prosecutors allege is a neo-Nazi Party, Lagos says support is growing.

  • Ioannis Lagos (through translator):

    We have seen that the European Union's insolvent policy for the last 40 years has demolished Europe's values and principles. They want to turn us, Europe, into a different continent. They want to Islamicize us, whether we want it or not.

    But, fortunately, the Europeans do not want this anymore.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    If the far-right increases its influence across Europe this month, what will become of refugees like Majida Ali? Unlike many victims from the Middle East and beyond, she's been willing to say publicly that she was raped after being arrested in Syria.

    She was held in the notorious Sednaya prison near Damascus, compared by former inmates to a Nazi death camp.

  • Majida Ali:

    The first time when they arrested me, the military, and they take me with the family. The family, it was a mother with three children and one boy. He was 12, 13 years old. And they raped the mother in front of her child, the boy.

    And then, because the child tried to protect his mom from the rape, and then they shot the boy in front of his mom.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Majida could have left the darkness of Samos, but believes she has a duty to stay and help.

    The authorities are planning another camp in Samos. Islanders are angry that their once idyllic vacation destination may soon have two permanent ghettos.

    Samos is bracing itself for another summer of overcrowded rubber boats. Here, the migration crisis is never-ending.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Samos.

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