Refugees are arriving every night on the Greek island Samos. Most are from Syria, others are from Iraq and Afghanistan. And for the first time last week I met Yemeni refugees.
They’re forced to pay up to £1,200 for a four mile crossing from Turkey, so the poorest don’t even get this far.
When groups arrive packed into rubber dinghies, riding dangerously low in the water, they’re terrified, knackered and also exalted to have arrived alive.
Mamoud is a 19 year old student from Aleppo in Syria. He told me, “There were 43 of us in a six metre plastic boat.
“I prayed for the entire journey to Samos.
“We left Izmir in Turkey at 1am and landed on Samos four hours later —it was four hours of fear.”
To get to the secluded beaches in Turkey, refugees have often already trekked for hours through forests.
They’re left covered in scratches and cuts.
Traffickers tell them to head for the lights of Samos. Mamoud said, “We were told that there would be 20 of us travelling.
“But when we got to the beach there were over 40 of us, including families with young children, two babies and one pregnant woman.
“One of our group couldn’t afford the £950 to make the crossing so he was forced to steer the boat.
“They gave him five minutes to learn about the motor, and then we were off.
“We were so low in the water, we were soon soaked to the skin. We were all very scared. Thanks be to God that we made it and no one died.”
On another boat one old man, who had cancer, had been sold medication that turned out to be water.
We insisted port police take him to hospital.
Once on Samos some are taken to a detention centre built in 2007. It is a series of asbestos huts and open pens surrounded by coiled barbed wire. It was meant to hold 250 but recently has held up to 1,200 people with no washing facilities or access to shade in 30 degree heat.
There are no official provisions.
So many of us who live locally have got organised.
We go down with food, water, blankets and toys for the children.
Local cafes provide extra plug sockets so refugees can charge their phones for free and use the Wifi.
The first thing people want to do when they land is to let their families know they are alive.
Almost all the refugees want to go to Germany—I have never had a single refugee say they want to go to Britain.
Syrian refugees are sent straight to the Greek capital Athens.
They are expected to walk 20 kilometres in blistering heat to the nearest ferry, so we help drive them to the port.
People who did this used to be prosecuted and some had their cars confiscated. But more are helping now. The police sometimes charter a coach, but then charge refugees to travel in it.
Many don’t have euros so we do a whip round. They are then also charged for the ferry to Athens.
Yet every day just a few metres away in the harbour a ferry from Turkey arrives and a ticket costs only 30 euros.
But instead of allowing desperate refugees to use this ferry, authorities force them to cram into rubber boats and make a dangerous journey in order to flee war and poverty.
They are being abandoned. The only help they receive is from local people, who often have little themselves.
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