The tip of the iceberg

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A few days ago I had lunch with a friend who is very involved in the refugee crisis, since she works with the European official in charge. They had come to Greece in order to meet with various members of the Greek government and to visit  Lesvos (they had previously stopped by Lampedusa). The things she told me make for scary reading.

Firstly, the measures decided upon – after much debate – are simply not working.  The relocation project dependant on ‘hot spots’  being set up to process people is proving ineffective, even as Greece is asking for €480 million to implement it (less than six have been approved so far). The reason is the following:
Refugees must go to the nearest hot spot to be fingerprinted and given identity papers; then they will have to wait until they are sent to the country they are allocated to. This might take months, given the numbers involved and the usual bureaucratic delays.  So why would they want to do that when – by other means – they can be in the country of their choice in four days? Nobody wants to stay – and almost nobody stays.

It also appears they have to be persuaded, rather than told, to have their fingerprints taken. It’s their choice – whereas all Greek are obliged to be fingerprinted for their identity cards. A few days ago I  read in the papers that – so far – only 15 Syrians have elected to stay. But if people are undocumented, it is very difficult to implement any kind of coherent policy for dealing with them.

Secondly, desperate people do desperate things. There are more and more babies and children coming in, because parents with children get automatic priority. There are more and more unaccompanied minors, sent by families hoping they’re going to a better, safer life. But I don’t need to point out the dangers they face traveling alone, and who knows how many don’t make it – and how many are abused and exploited along the way?
Worst of all, people have started to steal kids because they can use them to get preferential treatment. When they arrive at their destination, they dump them. More money is now being spent on a campaign to try and locate their families.

Only in the last two months, more than 100 children have drowned in the Aegean Sea, while in the last couple of days, 31 kids lost their lives in 7 separate shipwrecks. The mayor of Lesvos has asked that identification of the refugees is done in Turkey, to avoid so many drownings. Meanwhile, the local morgue is full of bodies and there is need for a new burial ground. And for the ultimate irony:  an airplane ticket from Turkey to Germany costs around €400. These people are paying well above €1000 to cross over on a floating death trap. Surely there is a moral in this somewhere.

Something else I didn’t know, and which I found quite shocking, is that sending people back home is often not possible, because their own countries WON’T TAKE THEM BACK (I’m not talking about war-torn zones like Syria here.) They prefer their citizens to stay abroad, since that means a lot of foreign currency will be coming in, and it also helps with local unemployment.

It seems every measure taken has a huge downside. The more people are saved, the more come over. In October alone, 218.00 people have crossed the Mediterranean, and of those, 210.000 have ended up in Greece.

imageWe are witnessing the biggest movement in populations in the history of mankind. 60 million people, from Syria and Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Haiti and a dozen African countries have fled endless wars and disastrous governments. And it’s not over yet. The wars are far from ended, ISIS and the Taliban are still preying upon entire populations, religious minorities are being hounded from their homes. The floods and droughts brought on by climate change exacerbate the problem. It would only take one typhoon in the Bay of Bengal to displace millions in Bangladesh.

To top it all, my friend has worked for a long time in Ethiopia – and the scariest thing she told me is the following:

In the next few years, immigration from Africa is set to increase exponentially.
Many of the young African countries are doubling their population every twenty years. Most of their current population is under 30 years old, while their governments are not doing much in terms of job creation and services. We’re talking billions here, a large number of whom will want to come over. Recent studies have shown that in developing countries, more than half wish to move to the west.

All this is bound to lead to a rise of the extreme right in European countries, something which has already started. Tensions are growing – the refugees are at the end of their tether, but so are a lot of the people assisting them, who sometimes feel they are not grateful enough for the help they’re getting. Many are demanding that borders be secured. The Schengen concept is in real danger, even though Angela Merkel is warning that border closures and fences to stop refugees “could cause military conflict” in the Balkans. The face of the world is changing, and most of us have yet to realize it.

I’m sorry to keep harping on about this subject. In spite of everything, some people remain optimistic that the refugees can eventually be absorbed by EE countries. Today, I read that 30 refugees were flown to Luxemberg for resettlement – a drop in the ocean, but still, some kind of start. Others just do their best to help, like Britons Andrew Davies and Wendy Wilcox, who set up  Solidarity Symi on the island of Symi, to help the people coming through. I also heard that young men on the islands are going out on jet skis, braving huge waves, to rescue people from shipwrecks.

Meanwhile, winter is approaching, and the refugees will have to face weather a lot of them are not used to, in many cases being obliged to live outdoors. Some parents are already wrapping their kids in rubbish bags to keep them dry…The seas are getting rougher and more dangerous, but the flow is not lessening. It is possible that because of all the talk of frontiers closing, many people feel it’s now or never.

So they take the risk.


Banana Cake

An update on the immigrant situation at Pedio tou Areos

imageWhile politicians and officials are sitting in air-conditioned offices, debating the Immigrant Question, on-the-spot action is being taken in Athens.
The ladies of the Melissa Network – an organization of immigrant women from many countries whose aim is to help integration and address all the issues associated with immigration – have rolled up their sleeves. Especially touched by the plight of the children present amongst this new wave of arrivals, some of whom are unaccompanied, they decided to lend a helping hand. Since last Monday, they are preparing breakfast for more than 200 kids daily: banana or carrot cake, cookies, sandwiches, cereal bars.

These are women who rise at 5.30 a.m. and work for ten hours a day. Then they get home and get in the kitchen. They have no funding and pay for everything with their own money. Fortunately, they do get some assistance from the neighborhood: many shopkeepers as well as private citizens do what they can to help them.

Another organization is also there to support. The “A Different Person” Community Kitchen is a group of people who cook in the street. So that the needy do not feel embarrassed about receiving charity, everyone cooks and eats together.
They say:

The impetus for the “Different Person” community kitchen was when we saw people of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities, and social classes looking through the left-overs at Athens farmers’ markets in an effort to gather food that they could not afford to buy. The first response was to cook food at home and try to distribute for free at the farmers’ markets. We then asked vendors to each donate one product from their stands so that we could continue the next day. After that, we decided instead to both cook and eat together in an effort to combat the shame of receiving a free cooked meal. Another purpose of our community kitchen is to distribute any leftover funds (typically 30-40 EUR/month) to unemployed people who help us on a daily basis and, when possible, for our volunteers too!


Of course new immigrants have joined their party. And they are now cooking on some islands such as Mytilini, where the huge number of arrivals is making life hard for everyone.

These are the sites of the organizations mentioned above: