People fleeing war do not come just
for money or shelter. They want to work, live in a house, shop or go to a
restaurant: they want a human life. All European countries where the uproar
over immigrants is getting more and more common, should instead welcome their
coming as the opportunity to renovate their economy.
On Lesvos there is also a minority
that complain about refugees. They do not realise that this drama has made
their island known around the world, all the way from Timbuktu to small
villages in the Australian outback. No supersonic Olympian promotion team could
have done better.
Refugees as well as the hundreds of
recently arrived rescuers and press have awakened the middle class who were in
a kind of lethargic state due to the crisis: a new economy has been born on
Lesvos because the summer season has been stretched out to November and, who
knows, maybe we will have a real winter season with plenty of visitors.
Refugees not only are responsible
for the arrival of so many helpers, volunteers and photographers, they also
have brought meter high mountains of garbage. Once all assembled, the
municipality probably will burn all that. Most of the plastic then will be
saved from the fishes, but what cancerous air will that create?
We live in a century where
techniques are developing so quickly that I am sure that one day a smart
inventor will combine all that refugee garbage in one huge recycling pot to
produce some marvellous new things. It could bring the island a fortune as
large as that being made by the smugglers.
But no ingenious person such as the
young inventor Boyan Slat, who found a way to clean the
oceans from hundreds of kilometres of plastic waste, has yet to present himself
(or herself). So for the moment we have to deal with all that plastic in a more
When a rubber dinghy arrives it
immediately is slashed, but it offers up some wooden floorboards that are taken
by locals to make sheds or to finish off other timber jobs. The rubber parts
are welcomed as a waterproof roof for dilapidated little buildings or as a
cover for woodpiles. The motors are stolen by vultures or stowed away by the
The black inner tubes (for children
you may find colourful plastic rings) that are supposed to, along with a life
jacket, make the sea journey extra safe, are a bit less popular. But that
rubber has plenty of opportunities for recycling: you can use it to weave or
knot waterproof floor mats, it can be cut in pieces to make trendy jewelery or
handbags and you even can use them to make live-size, frightening animals, as
has the Korean artist Yong
Life jackets are somewhat more
difficult to recycle. The plastic blocks that are supposed to be inside
(although there are cheap 'drown jackets' filled with grass), may serve as
building blocks. We all used to play with lego and this is as easy as this childrens'
toy. In Bejing they used plastic blocks to build a teahouse; a nice way to
welcome the refugees here. For people who may have forgotten to play with lego,
just start with a simple house for a dog, a cat or some chickens.
The refugees arriving here on the
island may have something different to do than being creative with plastic
blocks (do you suppose they grew up with lego?). They can economise on the life
jackets. They just need to collect some empty plastic bottles. For a floating
jacket you could dress yourself in a big plastic bag, attach 3 to 4 bottles to
your breast and the same amount to your back, and then tighten the plastic bag
around your belly with a piece of rope. You can also use a fishing net to keep
the bottles in place. If I look at the life jackets strewn on the beaches of
Lesvos, these home made bottle jackets would probably be as trustworthy.
There are also some refugee dogs and
even a cat that dared to cross the Aegean. A life jacket for a dog is easily
made: just bind some bottles to his back. A cat can put on a sweater to which
you can bind some bottles, see the second
Plastic bottles are anyhow the best
garbage you can get. Not only refugees create heaps of plastic waste,all the thirsty tourists and island
inhabitants also join the building of alpines levels of waste. Refugees should
not board dangerous dinghies provided by smugglers who are getting rich, but
instead should build their own boats with some hundreds or even thousands of
bottles. I bet Turkey also is full of bottle waste. Boats of bundled bottles
seem to me as seaworthy as those rubber things they come in. You could argue
that then the waste piles here on the island were growing even faster, but
those big amounts can offer other opportunities.
Fill a plastic bottle with smaller
plastic waste and you have an EcoBrick, a sturdy plastic ‘absorbing’ building block.
A great idea for the island to fight against its economical crisis: producing
them and using them to build. I think there now are so many bottles on the
island that you could build a reproduction of Athens with them.
I personal would prefer to find an
entrepreneur who would use those hundreds ofthousands of bottles to create a new island in one of the Gulfs of Lesvos: a
floating island of plastic bottles, which mixed with driftwood could soon
create plenty of possibilities. You could start there a Museum of Refugee
Garbage, with plastic bottle sculptures like giant
those great rubber sculptures of Yong Ho Ji. It could attract a new kind of
tourism and at the same time be a monument to all those thousands of refugees
who have reached the so-called safe Europe through Lesvos.