Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Refugees and the view from Corfu

Living in Greece for the past couple of months, I've been asked what the refugee situation is like here.

Well, to be perfectly honest, apart from scenes of chaos I see on television and long threads of polemic discussion on social media sites, I'm probably as well informed or as ill informed as the next person.

Corfu, you see, is in the Ionian Sea, on the west coast of the mainland, a long way from the Aegean, the place to which many of the refugees make their way from their homeland via an already circuitous route.

The only thing I have heard about here is the work of a Corfu doctor who is taking donated supplies such as fleece blankets, nappies, wipes and baby food to the Macedonian border to give to the refugees gathered there.

This is an unprecedented situation as hundreds and thousands of people try to make their way to countries who want them and where they feel safe. It's complicated, things aren't black or white, good or bad. The solution probably lies somewhere in between the two. In the meantime, people will die, individuals and nations will argue about it while Rome burns.

Everyone here has a view, as in the UK, where there is currently a crop of social media posts calling for UK to support its ex-servicemen and women first before even contemplating opening 'the floodgates' [sic] to refugees from Syria and other countries, as if the two aims were mutually exclusive.

Questions are being asked why the wealthy gulf states are not accepting refugees. This article goes some way to explaining that.

There is fierce, polarised debate on the Europeans Standing By Greeks! Facebook page in particular. The page admins are making up the rules as they go along, partly to keep users on-topic and also to stop 'hate or fear-mongering posts'. Although the Greek election is imminent, over the last week or so posts have been dominated by conversations about the effect this influx of people is having on islands like Lesbos and Kos.

John Dymond, reporting for the BBC in Lesbos, where thousands have gathered in tents in the hope of travelling on to Athens and northern and western Europe, says there is no sanitation and healthcare, with one aid agency is warning that the situation spells 'a humanitarian disaster".

A friend of mine asked her backpacking son, who has been island hopping around Greece, whether he had seen many refugees. This is what he told her: "It's pervasive but totally f***ing ignored. Every ferry to Piraeus is packed with the wealthier Syrians who can afford the trip.

"From what I've gathered the Syrians are processed for free but have to pay their own way to Athens and from there are given a six month visa and a blind eye is turned on the northern border to filter them out.

"Met a big group of guys in the port who we hung out with for a while, very nice people who all seemed quite excited to talk to the only Europeans who'd sit with them. People really avoid them round here. I'm fairly sure every port in the Dodecanese has put up some out-of-the-way holding pen to stop them being seen by the tourists. At least that's how it seems.

"Anyway, they all made rings out of cigarette papers to half-jokingly propose to Ana. We traded cigarettes (they hadn't seen roll ups before) and spoke about where they were from and going. Many sad stories. There wasn't much we felt we could do but give them some tobacco and wish them luck."

Greece is a country knee-deep in its own humanitarian crisis and can't cope.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

1 comment:

  1. Hi again Maddie, I just have to mention something completely different regarding the refugee crisis - nothing to do with our summer holiday. From what we see in SA on International TV, BBC News, etc the refugees are being allowed into Europe to allow them to make a better life for themselves. Good? What I don't understand is the fact that absolutely no-where on the many TV programmes on this crisis does it show individuals or even a small group of people cleaning after themselves. As they move they drop tons and tons of waste - leaving it behind for the temporary host countries to clean up after them. I do realise that their journey is traumatic and challenging but to just drop waste as you move along seems to be very disrespectful to the hosting countries. Do they realise that it is a privilege not a right? And that cleaning up behind yourself is a basic token of respect? Please correct me if I'm wrong. I don't mean to be judgemental but it is quite shocking.


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