SKILLS FACTORY, Samos

Here we produce humanitarian aid ourselves:
by hand. locally. sustainably. independently. honestly.

In the closed refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos there is a lack of everything. But the people who live in this misery, bring the knowledge and the experience to produce everything they need by themselves. And the fertile island of Samos supplies the necessary raw materials. 

And this is where the SKILLS FACTORY comes in

In our workshops we work, learn and laugh together, pass on skills and knowledge, and develop innovative solutions. The products we manufacture directly improve the current living situation and alleviate humanitarian suffering. This is how we break the vicious circle of dependency.

Our Workshops

The manual skills that our participants bring with them form the basis of the workshops. At the same time, they take over the management of these areas.

Here are some examples of professional fields in which refugees have experience, but which are also traditionally anchored on the island. We are flexible and continuously adapt our operations to people and their needs.

Construction

Wood Workshop

Painting

Bike Workshop

Electric Repair

Kitchen / Bakery

Textile Workshop

Gardening

Textile Printing

External Jobs

Upcycling

More...

Our impact

Gaps in the support system are covered by the community itself.

Positive influence on the living conditions of the refugees in the camp as well as the locals in need.

Improved mental health situation through daily structure, meaningful tasks and responsibility .

Self-empowerment and strengthening of identity through perceiving and appreciating the professional past and expertise.

Improved opportunities for labor market integration in Greece or the EU

The interest in handicraft builds bridges between people and cultures.

Use of local products promotes local agriculture

Reduction of waste pollution and imports and thus of the outflow of money from the island.

Context

The new «closed, controlled access camp»

Am 18. September 2021 wurde auf der Griechischen Insel Samos das neue «Closed Controlled Access»-Flüchtlingscenter eröffnet. Ein Millionenprojekt der EU, das die Situation für die Geflüchteten eigentlich hätte verbessern sollen (The Guardian, 2021). In der Realität jedoch mangelt es an vielem. Das Camp liegt völlig abgeschottet zwischen Hügeln und erinnert mit seinen hohen Drahtzäunen und den streng bewachten Eingangskontrollen an ein Hochsicherheitsgefängnis.

Die Lebensbedingungen sind vernichtend. Die Menschen leben wie Gefangene in totaler Isolation, fernab der Zivilisation, in unfertigen und mangelhaften Unterkünften. Die neu gebauten Küchen sind nur selten funktionstüchtig, das im Camp verteilte Essen reicht nicht aus. Durchschnittlich verharren die Asylsuchenden bis zu zwei Jahren unter diesen Bedingungen, bevor sie einen Entscheid über ihren Antrag erhalten. «Das neue Camp ist wie ein Gefängnis», verkündeten auch die Ärzte ohne Grenzen (MSF in ANSA, 2021).

Existing support structures and their gaps

With the opening of the new refugee camp, far away from the small town of Vathy, many of the formerly active NGOs left the island.

Those who stayed still take on essential tasks, from health care to informal schooling for all age groups, clothing and food distribution for particularly vulnerable groups, to legal advice and psycho-social support.

But most of the organizations operate in or at the new camp without offering an alternative to the isolation. There are hardly any offers for the men in the camp, who currently make up almost 75% of the total refugee population.   

“Everything on this island is for children and women
- except for the condoms »

Feedback by a male resident.

Within the few existing services, they find themselves in the role of “takers”, mostly waiting and queuing to receive handouts. There is hardly any possibility for the asylum seekers to take active themselves and change something about the situation.

Men - the overlooked vulnerable group

Single traveling men are often perceived as strong or even dangerous and they are treated accordingly by the community and authorities. This perception often undermines their vulnerability since being alone exposes them to unique dangers. Not only is there a lack of familial support in these difficult, often traumatic living conditions, but many men are additionally under the pressure of the expectation to be successful in Europe and to support their family from afar. Without the support of their families, single traveling men are exposed to a greater risk of developing mental illnesses, have an increased risk of aggression (against themselves or against others), drug consumption or addiction (Europe Must Act, 2020, S. 44).

Additionally, men who have fled with their family are suffering from the loss of their traditional role model and identity as protectors and providers of their families, neither of which they can guarantee in such an environment. Instead, they are forced to stand in line for hours to receive help. This shift in roles (from provider to recipient) can lead to serious identity crisis, due to the feeling of not being able to meet the gender-based expectations to be the head of the family, as suggested by Turner in the report «UNHCR is a better husband» eindrücklich beschreibt.

Impact on the local community on Samos

Approximately 33’000 permanent inhabitants live on the Island of Samos. Due to its geographical and topographical location, Samos is rich in rain and sunshine, which makes the soil particularly fertile. Thus, the strongest economic sector is traditionally the agricultural sector.

Greece has been hit by numerous crises in the past, which have affected the remote islands particularly hard. The steady emigration of the younger generation to the mainland or abroad, had led to an aging of the islands and the loss of traditional knowledge and handicrafts. The cultivation of the fields and handicraft productions have withered increasingly, and businesses have closed, such as those that produced leather and tobacco.

Instead, tourism became one of the main sources of income. But as a result of the refugee crises many tourists and with them the annual income of the Samians stayed away. As early as 2019, some locals could no longer afford to keep their shops open, were forced to close, and had trouble paying their bills (Euro.News, 2019). Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in October 2020, not only destroyed thousands of houses, but also numerous livelihoods (Europäisches Parlament, 2020).

And even if many of the islanders show great solidarity with the asylum seekers, the steadily deteriorating economic situation and the long-lasting humanitarian crisis with no prospect of improvement, lead to the rise of negative, racist and even aggressive voices. Tensions are mounting especially in the city of Vathy, where everyone lives closely together. 

Annual grape harvest, Samos Wine Cooperative (autumn 2020)

Import of aid supplies

Most of the relief aid for Samos is produced on the mainland or abroad and is shipped to the small island by the ton. Every week, shipping containers full of frozen and prepacked food portions, clothing donations, hygiene products, fruits, vegetables, baby foods in plastic bags, plastic bottles and cheap snacks from discounter markets end up in the camp while the aid money flows back abroad.

The local community is barely involved in the production and the restaurants are empty, especially since the outbreak of the pandemic. Some of the local farmers even ceased the cultivation of their fields because they cannot compete with the low prices of low-cost discounters, such as Lidl.

Another burden for the island arises from the packaging of the auxiliary materials and the resulting waste. In the camp alone, meals and several water bottles are distributed to the 3,500 people every day, all wrapped in plastic or aluminium trays that are not properly disposed of (Mayer, 2020).

Global perspective

The NGO «selfm.aid» believes, that the current global challenges, namely climate change and the refugee crisis, cannot be viewed or addressed independently of one another.

Both phenomena are directly related to excessive consumption and the waste of local resources. In order to develop a sustainable solution for future generations, new concepts of living are required that show an alternative, give more appreciation to the given resources and strengthen local networks.

"Because only strong, local communities will be able to master global challenges of the present and the future."

And this is where the “SKILLS FACTORY” comes in.