Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas thought

In Athens and Thessaloniki the student riots continue. They occupied a TV studio and the cinema in Thessaloniki where the International Film Festival was held in November and where in March 2009 the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival will be held, they hang garbage bags in the large Christmas tree in Athens (the VIT [Very Important Tree] that was just replaced after the previous one was destroyed in the riots), or they hang huge banners with international protest slogans fluttering from the Acropolis in Athens.

Here on Lesvos everything remains calm and we're not much affected by the various strikes. What counts is that the gasoline and oil prices are significantly lower, a relief for a large number of people, because many people have very little money in the winter, also thanks to the officials who in charge of the various benefits (a.o. IKA), who make no efforts to get the money to the people in time.

What also continues is the arrival of refugees. Good or bad weather, they still come. Last week it almost went very wrong. In the night, when a strong south wind was blowing, a rubber boat was detected just outside the harbour at Molyvos, with 26 people on board.

Due to the high waves it took the Coast Guard a few hours in to get the boat bearing the frightened refugees, including women and children, into the harbour. They arrived ashore at half past twelve and then there was no chance to take the group to Mytilini, where the refugee centre is. So they were brought to the Saint Nicolas church (Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of seafarers), where residents of Molyvos, led by Melinda and Theo Kosmetos (also known as the owners of the Captain's Table, a summer restaurant in the harbour) ensured that the nearly-drowned got dry clothes and food to spend the night in Molyvos.

The mayor of Molyvos expressed his outrage that the refugee policy is so poorly regulated here on the island (which he has already done for months, but in Athens the politicians seem to have to deal with more important things). There are still not enough people to man the Coast Guard in order to give the refugees adequate help, and transportation to the capital is insufficient.

Some citizens offered to take the people themselves to Mytilini, but that is strictly forbidden: "you could catch a disease and the risk of an accident is too great" (as if not all Molyvosians travel to the capital at least once a week)! Instead of the government, now residents of Molyvos combined to organize a decent reception for the refugees. Last week there was a group of 40 Somalis who arrived in the late hours in the village and they had to spend the night in the rain on the street.

That night the weather was still fairly mild, but the weather forecasts for the holiday season speak for themselves: the temperature will drop towards freezing, the northeastern wind will arrive and at various places in Greece there might be a chance of a white Christmas. That will be no weather for the refugees to cross the sea.

While we are comfortable sitting close to our heater discussing the menu for the Christmas dinner, this discussion will be a short one for the Greeks, because most of them will have Christmas dinner with pork with celery (selinato) and also a bit of lamb, in case someone doesn't want pork. Served with well-known Greek dishes such as the pea puree Fava, tsatsiki and salad. During the whole day there are biscuits served such as the melomakarona that drip from honey. Christmas dinner in Greece is mostly served on the 25th in the afternoon and there is no official second Christmas Day, but the 26th is used by many to recover from the heavy eating on the day before.

While we sit happy around the fireplace dreaming of a white Christmas, across the sea in Turkey hundreds of people in a camp in harsh conditions are waiting for their chance to go to Europe. They are dependent on the weather and the smugglers that they have to pay a substantial sum to risk their lives in order to make the crossing in a rickety boat.

The refugees will only have one thought: reach shiny Europe, which continues to sink in an economic crisis. Not such a nice thought for Christmas, but still let us give some thought to all those people that left their homes to flee from war and other difficult circumstances.


Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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