Sunday, 21 September 2008


After this summer I no longer believe the earth is getting warmer. Maybe at the North Pole, but not here on Lesvos. This summer was quite cool without major heat waves, the sea never got as warm as in other summers and now it looks like winter has already started in September. Within a week the temperature dropped by half: 17°C!

Last Wednesday the heavens opened to let loose a real flood and in the last few days there was more rain. Winter clouds still fill the sky and I really couldn't look at Lepetimnos, wondering if the first snow was already there.

This sudden end of the summer is not the reason that the island has still not emptied. Although more and more tourists leave the island through the airport at Mytilini on the Southeast side, in the Northeast refugees flood the coasts with their dinghies.

Some smart Turkish guy on the other side now buys dinghies for 20 people (until this summer smaller boats for 4-6 persons were used for Lesvos). A very good business, work it out for yourself: when you ask the refugees 5,000 euros per person for the crossing from Turkey to Greece, with this boat trip you earn 100,000 euros!

But the Greek islands are getting a bit fed up with the refugees that, uninvited, disrupt more and more their daily life. Last week the island of Patmos threatened to close its port to the refugees. Patmos has about 3,000 inhabitants and received since the beginning of the year 4,000 refugees already. Mostly the smugglers abandon the refugees on the inhabited island of Agathonissi, which is close to Patmos. Then at Patmos the refugees have to wait to be transported to another island with a refugee camp. You can imagine that in high summer it's difficult to find a boat for this transport. The emergency accommodation, in an old discotheque in Patmos, was not very comfortable in the soaring summer heat, which meant that huge amounts of refugees roamed through the small streets of the main village Skala, begging for food and drinks.

Samos island also cried for help this month. The new refugee centre that was opened just last summer and had place for some 280 persons, was crammed with 500 refugees. And their coastguards are becoming overworked, they desperately need more officers to be able to keep up their patrols.

The refugee centre on Lesvos, near Mytilini, is as overcrowded as the one on Samos and was heavily criticised this summer. It is easy to criticise, but who is catching the human traders, who ensures that the refugees don't have to flee anymore? Who helps the Greek islands that can no longer deal with the huge flows of people seeking refuge on their coasts?

The worst is the situation in Patras. There an illegal slum has arisen full of refugees. In Patras the refugees hope to find a truck or a boat to hide on and so reach their promised land.

The Greek government promises new refugee centres, complains to Europe that Greece has to guard such a long line of European border, but doesn't do anything positive. The alarming cries from the islands and the international press releases about the undignified situations in Patras and on the islands are lost in the reports about the national scandals.

Greece loved to fight in words with Turkey, but they were not too enthusiastic to do this when it was proven that not only jets crossed illegal Greek borders but also coast guards, in order to deposit refugees on the Greek islands.

It's less than a hundred years ago that the Greek islands last saw so many refugees. In the years 1922-1923, after the Greek Turkish war, some one and a half million Greeks were forced to flee from Turkey to Greece (from Greece about half a million Ottomans were returned to the new Turkey). see this item on youtube

Especially in Smyrna, present day Izmir, the expulsion was a huge tragedy. But seeing the images from the refugee camp in Patras can also bring tears to your eyes

The government would like to remove the camp, but it's good that there are still Greeks and international organisations that manage to keep the camp alive.

Summer or winter, the refugees continue to come. The sea crossing between Turkey and Greece is just a short passage in a very long journey...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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