A journey to Samos, where refugees don't go anymore

Landings from Turkey down, Aegean island relaunches tourism

01 July, 18:45

    samos samos

    (by Gaetana D'Amico)

    (ANSAmed) - SAMOS (Greece), JULY 1- Samos is a green, lush island, known for being the birthplace of Pythagoras, for its muscat wine as well as for its rich history and archaeological sites.
    Yet over the past year, it has made headlines due to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.
    The north-eastern Aegean island's closest tip to Turkey is just 1.2 kilometers away from the Anatolian coast.
    And this closeness has led to many migrant landings, mainly Syrians and Iraqis who were fleeing war and trying to reach the easiest entry point to Europe, choosing Samos, along with Chios and Kos as the first leg of their journey.
    The island, like must of Greece, has been a transit point of migrant flows mainly last year and tourism has suffered. But today Samos (32,000 residents who become 130,000 during the summer) wants to change its image as a point of entry for immigrants and is seeking to relaunch a sector that is one of the main revenues for the local economy.
    The Greek tourism organization is making an effort with the international press to get the message across.
    ''You can say the summer season has just started'', said Jorges, one of the owners of a restaurant along the beach of Pythagorio. ''Many tourists were influenced by reports on television and the papers, by the images of immigrants in Lesvos's hotspots, or the lifesavers found at sea and they thought they would find a similar situation here. But there are no more refugees in Samos'', he added.
    The only migrant center in the island was hosting just a while ago 1,400 immigrants. Only 400 are left now, waiting for their asylum application to be approved in order to leave the island and be transferred. Last year, local authorities said, as many as 100 migrants arrived every day.
    But after the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, the number of landings has gone down, if not disappeared.
    ''Refugees? We haven's seen them'', said Yiannis Parassiris, from the union of cooperatives of wine producers in Samos. And he added: ''Compared to last year, the situation has improved a lot. Tourism has suffered for sure. Who could have wished to come here amid the refugee crisis? But, little by little, we are going back to normal''.
    ''There has been a problem with migrants in Samos'', explained Giorgos Perris, president of the area of Kokkari, one of the municipalities of the island. ''Not like in other islands for sure, but it has affected us and the general trend to raise the alarm has not helped either''.
    ''When they arrived en masse we helped them with first aid, food and water, because it is in our nature to be hospitable. We managed the situation in a sensitive way. Tourism has gone down but is now recovering and, according to estimates by hoteliers, there will be an increase until October. The 2016 summer season has started in a positive way - continued the president - and all those who come here to spend their vacations can say that the situation is absolutely calm'', he added.
    And, confirming his words, the seafront of Kokkari is filling up with tourists arriving for a drink before lunch: Dutch, German and British tourists are part of the island and some have even bought a house. ''They are our best ambassadors'', confirmed Perris. (ANSAmed)

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