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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Refugee crisis

Humans of New York (HONY) is presently doing a series on the refugee crisis in Europe, showing photos of refugees who have passed through Greece:
“My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece). https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/1097477253659707/?type=3&fref=nf

Greek people also have stories to tell; they don't just take pictures, they take action. Here is one such story, told by a Cretan reporter who lives in Athens. He lived through a rainy evening in Plateia Victorias (Victoria Square) in Athens, trying to help refugees who had parked themselves at the entrance of his apartment block during the rain (the original write up appeared yesterday and refers to this past weekend):
Last night we returned home from a Saturday night out for a drink at about 1 a.m. It was pouring with rain. you could hardly see in front of you. Below the microscopic canvas awning of the open-air greengrocer's, about 50 refugees had gathered, among them many mothers with babies in their arms.The front door to the apartment was opened, a quick nod was made, and the refugees came inside. 50 people on the stairs, from the door to the mezzanine floor. Outside our door, a family with babies: the little one had a temperature of 37.4. We gave her depon syrup [paracetemol for children] and bananas, Demetra made toasted sandwiches and Peggy from next door washed some grapes, we gave them blankets and pillows.We went to bed, but we didn't sleep. 
Around 2:30am we saw the lump that was a police squad car illuminating the road and we went to see what was going on. A hipster, not more than 30 years old, from the 4th floor had called the police to get them out. We were surprised to hear police officers requesting him to show some understanding and to let them sleep through the night at the entrance telling him "There are mothers with children, they aren't here to rob you, we ask you to withdraw your complaint and if you're afraid, just lock your door twice ''. He insisted: it wasn't his problem. I came down, and we argued. He left when the refugees left. Just two or three families remained on our doorstep. 
The night had not ended: at the square there arrived an EΘΕΛ bus to pick up the refugees and take them somewhere safe, but without permission from the administration. Apostolis was driving it: "The head of the administration is a fascist, he never gave me permission to move the bus. I took it myself and I came. He issued an arrest order. First I'll take the refugees somewhere to sleep and then let them arrest me". More negotiations. A couple of cops insisted that there's an arrest order and they had to arrest him, the rest tried to find a compromise. The refugees who were persecuted by the apartment entrance scattered their sleeping-bags in the rain or resorted to using chairs from the cafes. 
From phone calls, the transport minister suddenly appears. There isn't a bad thing to say: he asked us what we propose, he made calls and he got Victoria station [the underground] opened for the refugees to enter. He stays there until they get the refugees in. We took Apostoli and left. The 'rambo' who wanted to arrest him left looking pissed off, another cop approached us apologetically: '' We're not MATWe want to help, the good thing is that the orders are to see this in a humanitarian way and to force others to adjust to it''.<br />We stay at home with Apostoli and have coffee until 6am. He tells us how the Autonomous Nationalists got postings in the Association and ΕΘΕΛ and how they face them. What happens with the headhunters coming to prowl for fines and tickets. That the bus depot is at Elliniko [suburb] and is up for privatisation. He leaves and we sleep. 
When we wake up, it is almost noon. We open the door. The refugees who slept outside our door are gone. Before they left they took care of everything: glasses, pillows, blankets, whatever we gave them was outside our door, folded away. 
 
When this great story with the refugees at Victoria Square finishes, I want to write something about everyone. I want to write about the disabled man from Galatsi [suburb of Athens] who came with his son and his friends to deliver pizzas, who were then rammed by Kaklamanis' thugs [Kaklamanis is a centre-right politician] by the ' Commission'' of Saint Panteleimon [an area known for Golden Dawn support]. I want to write about the girl, who was no more than 1.60m tall, who rushed at the head thug and screamed at the top of her voice "Get out of here, get away from Greece, let us give them food". I want to write about the baker that came every other day and leaves behind dozens of loaves of bread. About the Assembly of Victoria which arranges the soup kitchens and brings the doctors. About the doctors who searched me out because I wrote something here and they asked me where they could go and help. About the people who bring what they can. About Rousa, Stelios and Panos who bring their toys. About the woman who recognized me and asked me to announce on the radio to get the municipality to bring in chemical toilets. About Demetra who made toasted sandwiches and shouted "let the people stay, shame on you" to the rat who called the police. About Peggy who opened her door to let the refugees have access to the bathroom. About Efi, who went to the far-right greengrocer at Victoria Square and demanded that she only wants good quality fruit and at a lower price because it's for the refugees. About Apostoli that took the bus by force from the depot and came to pick up refugees who were sitting in the rain and "allowed" himself to be arrested. 
But most of all, I want to write about the woman from Afghanistan, with the child who had a fever in the rain, as I watched her holding her child outside my door, and when she woke up this morning, she still felt it necessary to put the blankets and pillows in order and to leave them behind for us to take them back. 
I wonder what kind of cretin the hipster of the 4th floor must be to think that society is in danger from this woman and not from the man himself. 
But I don't wonder too much. Because throughout these days it has been confirmed that our world is full of great people, who will eventually change it. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1670444283168506&set=a.1379388452274092.1073741828.100006088505839&type=3&permPage=1
It take all sorts to make the world. We're not all the same. Most of us are actually good people. It's just those few that stuff it up for the majority.

Bonus storyIf you want to read more stories like this, you can see Adriani's picture post: she took some refugees from Victoria Square to her home last week:http://www.facebook.com/ariadni23athens/media_set?set=a.10207756784946032.1073741843.1485911484&type=3 
and Poly Ioannidou's picture post about the refugees at Eidomeni on the Greek border: http://www.facebook.com/poly.ioannidou/media_set?set=a.10204611230635094.1073741865.1664534357&type=3&pnref=story&hc_location=ufi
There are many others, too numerous to list.

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