Tuesday, 1 January 2008

A sad outcome

The sky above Lesvos is grey. For about two weeks the sun did its best, but now the weather will change again into rainy and cold conditions. The wind takes it easy during the daytime, but blows during the night. Not a happy situation for the refugees who like to travel during the night across the sea.

Looking at the numbers of refugees that arrived last year on the Eastern Aegean islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos, makes you sad. About 10,000 people, mainly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Palestine and Iran managed to reach these Greek islands alive. About 100 people drowned or are missing during the journey across the sea. Even then, the 50 people that drowned last month during the start of their trip, in bad weather in the sea near Turkey, aren't included in this number.

On the first of December the new asylum centre on Samos was finally opened. Last year over 4,000 refugees reached this island, which is a lot because there are only 35,000 inhabitants. But Samos, of all the Greek islands, is closest to Turkey. A refugee was proud to tell that he made the sea trip from Turkey to Samos in only 40 minutes. The cost of this short trip, including a place in an inflatable boat, is between 600 and 900 dollars.

The arrival of refugees here on the islands is now in the national and often the international news on a daily basis. Which means that finally there's a reaction from Athens. They will send more police to the islands, specialists in dealing with asylum seekers, and they will make sure that these people are treated correctly.

We didn't see as large a number of refugees arrive as on Samos, but also here on Lesvos you could see that their numbers more than doubled. The nearly daily groups of strangers lounging at the bus stop have become a familiar sight.

The stranded inflatable dinghys have become part of the beach landscape. There are no heaps of seaweed without such a green or yellow dinghy sticking out. If the refugees weren't so afraid of being sent back in these little boats, which is why they slash them on arrival, everybody in Molyvos would now own a little rubber dinghy.

Before Christmas there were campaigns to collect clothes for the refugees. Well, there shouldn't be such a collection, it would be enough if one person would be responsible for gathering all the clothes the refugees leave behind. This person could clean them and bring them to the asylum centre. Nowadays you not only find Greek rubbish everywhere in the countryside, but also refugees clothes in the strangest places. They say that they come empty handed, but they just leave their wet clothes behind. I understand that when they arrive in Europe, they like to change into dry clothes, but I don't understand why they leave behind valuable possessions like good jeans, jackets and backpacks.

Mister George Selimis, a resident of Athens, but originally from Mytilini, had two things: cancer what made him die recently and an extreme love of buying clothes. He bought jackets, t-shirts, shoes and trousers in the most expensive shops, but never wore them. After his death it was decided that his clothes should be donated to the asylum centre in Mytilini. I'm wondering what they'll think when they receive their brand new clothes from the finest shops, something like 150 jackets, 58 pair of shoes and an unknown number of shirts and trousers...

50 years ago Greece was itself a country from which its inhabitants fled to look for a better life elsewhere. Now they have became a country for refugees, a situation they are not really ready for. I don't know if there were people fleeing over the sea during the turn of the year, if so they would have been received by the fireworks of Molyvos. They probably wouldn't have been noticed that night. The New Year was celebrated in full swing at the Bazaar nightclub and the other inhabitants were nearly all deep asleep by one o'clock.

So the New Year here had a quiet start. I wish the world a peaceful year, so that not too many people wish to leave their homes and families in order to look for a better life... Kali Chronia!

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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