An online petition has been made by the grassroots campaign group, Avaaz, on behalf of the residents of the Greek islands who have been rescuing, feeding and sheltering hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants arriving at their shores.
This is the text of the petition: “Ordinary residents of Greek islands and other volunteers have been on the front lines of Europe’s refugee crisis for months, opening up their hearts and homes to save hundreds of thousands fleeing war and terror. For their compassion and courage, for treating those in danger with humanity, and for setting an example for the rest of the world to follow, we citizens around the world, nominate these brave women and men for a Nobel Peace Prize.”
Nearly 1 million migrants entered Europe in “irregular arrivals” last year, most fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration. These tidal waves of humanity have made the Mediterranean “the deadliest route for migrants on our planet,” the IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing has said, with nearly 3,700 people drowning in its waters last year. And more are continuing to drown on a daily basis, especially in the last weeks, when the weather has turned to winter at last, and the sea is freezing cold.
According to an article in the Guardian (Sunday 24 January, 2016), “of the 900,000 refugees who entered Europe last year most were received – scared, soaked and travelling in rickety boats – by those who live on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
The islanders, including fishermen who gave up their work to rescue people from the sea, are in line to be honoured with one of the world’s most esteemed awards. Eminent academics from the universities of Oxford, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell and Copenhagen are drafting a submission in favour of awarding the prize to the people of Lesbos, Kos, Chíos, Samos, Rhodes and Leros.”
The article goes on to say that “it must be noted that a people of a country already dealing with its own economic crisis responded to the unfolding tragedy of the refugee crisis with “empathy and self-sacrifice”, opening their homes to the dispossessed, risking their lives to save others and taking care of the sick and injured.”
At the time of posting, the petition had amassed 313,975 signatures
I’m very proud of my compatriots, and feel the islanders and volunteers more than deserve to be commemorated for their actions. However, as they would be the first to say, prizes are neither here nor there. Helping people in need is its own reward, and their smiles is all the thanks most of them require. The nomination, however, could serve to highlight this huge problem, which a lot of countries feel is not their concern. On the beach, humanity is what is needed. Afterwards, appropriate policies are necessary; and in this matter, both Europe and America have been found lacking. Despite the stats, despite the photographs and the eyewitness accounts, this issue is not being dealt with as seriously as it merits.
And it is a very complex issue. Apart from the purely humanitarian angle, there are other aspects that are unclear and sometimes highly unsavory.
First there is the ‘business’ dimension: traffickers in humans and goods, black marketeers, makers of fake documents and all sorts of others have been making A LOT of money out of this crisis, essentially by preying on their fellow men who are in dire need. Then there is human abuse – of women, unaccompanied children, the weak: sexual abuse, kidnapping of minors, even simple theft of people’s money and meager possessions. Thirdly, there needs to be some kind of control. It is obvious that not everyone can demand to relocate to Europe so it is imperative that arrivals are sorted out. Letting in people who are ‘unsuitable’ – criminals, terrorists or just people hoping to take advantage of some countries’ welfare system – will not do anything for the true refugees’ cause. There are also geo-political concerns: relations between countries are getting strained, and the concept of Schengen is floundering.
What are the real issues here? Particular interests? Economics? Politics? Time for the powers-that-be to pull up their socks. It took them an inordinate amount of time to even recognize there was a crisis. Some are now making an effort, such as Germany, the UK, the Scandinavian countries; but it is still too little, too late. (The Germans, especially, have started feeling they are being crowded out – there is bound to be a backlash, such as a rise in extreme-right politics.) Some, such as Turkey, are not yet fulfilling their obligations. Neither is the government of Greece as organized as it needs to be. Others still, like some of the Eastern European countries, don’t want to know—despite having themselves, in the past, sought refuge in other societies.
Meanwhile, the fishermen on Lesbos are pulling people out of the sea instead of fishing for lobsters. And the grannies are knitting bootees and bonnets, putting volunteers up in their houses and welcoming wet and weary arrivals with a smile. Some of their parents were refugees themselves, fleeing Turkey in the 1920’s and landing, destitute, on these islands. They know what it’s like to be unwanted.
If anyone wants to sign the petition, go to Avaaz.org.