August 12, 2015

While tourists flock to the Greek islands for enjoying the summer, dozens of makeshift boats, with thousands of people aboard, arrive on the Greek coast, marking the end of an arduous journey for reaching Europe. After a long and tiresome journey, most refugees reach Greece through Turkey, a major link between the European Union and the Middle East. Some refugees travel for months to arrive in Athens, which serves as a transfer point for migrants fleeing the brutal wars of the East. Although getting to Athens is a crucial milestone for traveling further to the more prosperous parts of the continent, what refugees face in Greece is sometimes far grimmer than their entire journey.

The flood of migrants in recent months has overwhelmed the already crisis-ridden Greek economy and government. Because the austerity measures for saving the Greek economy has incapacitated the government to meet the basic needs of refugees, volunteer networks has become the sole power to provide for those who come ashore after perilous journeys. They are often the first ones to meet the refugees and arrange for their stay. Fifty residents, for example, in the neighbourhood of Exarcheia in Athens, provide food, water, and medical care for four hundred Afghans camping in a nearby park. Balbis, a volunteer, lamented, “It is our duty as human beings to help. God knows, maybe in two months of time, we will be just like them.” Irham Haidi, from Afghanistan and staying in a park in Athens, said faithfully, “I will join my son in Hamburg soon, and then we will start a better life.” Like many others, Mr. Haidi sent his son six months ago to Hamburg, the route which he now repeats with his wife and two children. Originally from Ghazni, a city in eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Haidi and his family traveled seventy-five days and 5.600 kilometres from their village to the Greek capital. Mostly on foot, they have crossed borders three times through Iran and Turkey.

Since January, 124.000 migrants have entered Greece, and only six thousand of them applied for asylum in the country, others have traveled further onto the western Europe. The influx of refugees have paralysed the Greek institutions. Especially on Kos Island, where local authorities are accustomed to deal with nothing more than the influx of tourists, the arrival of thousands of migrants in rubber dinghies caused a chaos. On Tuesday, fierce police officers used fire extinguishers and batons to disperse the crowds of weary boat people waiting to be registered in Kos’ main port. Thousands of people have been sleeping in the port grounds for days to get their temporary travel documents.

What they demand from Greece is only a piece of paper to record their status as refugee. “We just want to leave this land, and they fail to understand that,” Laith Saleh, from Aleppo, told the Associated Press reporters. After the violent clash with the police, Yorgos Kyritsis, the mayor of Kos, issued a warning that the holiday island became a battlefield, and migrant situation went out of control. “There is a real danger. Blood will be shed,” warned the mayor, sending shockwaves through entire Greece about the state of affairs on Kos. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced that the private security personnels have been harassing the vulnerable refugees, and the authorities on Kos had no intention of improving the situation for these people, as they fear that it would constitute a “pull factor” for others to come. The head of operations in MSF, Bricede le Vinge, argued, “The truth is people fleeing war will keep coming, whether or not the authorities are trying to stop them from doing so.” Refugees, who are mostly undocumented, have been harassed multiple times, and the police force of the island does nothing to stop the crime against them or identify the perpetrators.

Although the government fails to take action for ameliorating the hardship of refugees, some individuals strive for making a difference in the lives of those who suffer. The vacation of a Dutch couple with four children on the picturesque Greek island of Lesbos turned into a volunteer effort for providing aid to some of the refugees who were drawn in thousands to the island for reaching a better future in Europe. Angelique Bos told the reporters that after seeing the refugees all over the island, she decided with her husband to extend their stay on Lesbos for helping people. She has been handing out cookies and water, and once she passionately hugged dozens of migrants minutes after their arrival on the island. Migrants, who travelled thousands of miles for getting to Europe, thanked her several times for her warm welcome. She said it was the best vacation of her life, as she had been helping the refugees for thirteen days, and planned to stay five more. She promised that she would not stop helping refugees afterwards, back in the Netherlands, she will try to raise money for housing future volunteers. Even though some amiable tourists like Mrs. Bos enjoy helping refugees and keep coming back, the dominating presence of refugees on the Greek islands may also put some tourists off.

Unless the European Union steps in for providing funds and assistance, the Greek government is unlikely to cope with the refugee crisis, as it is mired in economic difficulties. As a supranational organisation which bases itself upon the framework of human rights, the European Union should not allow a humanitarian crisis of this scale to occur within its borders. Apart from border politics and economics, the European should recall the peaceful and humanitarian aim of their union to resolve the refugee crises happening all through the continent.


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