Monday, September 07, 2015

Polarizing Desperation

"It literally makes me sick to look at all the glowing souvlaki menu boards [outside restaurants] when everyone says there's no food to feed the refugees."
"The refugees have no food, no toilets, no water and no reception centre. And the police force of a small island is] dealing with a crisis of global proportions."
Eliza Goroya, Amnesty International researcher, Kos, Greece

"It's too much. The tourists aren't coming because of the migrants."
"Look, one of my staff is from Pakistan, another is from Albania. Both have all the documents and they pay taxes in Greece."
"But now I speak like a racist."
Stavros Bachares, G-Plaza cafe

"Life is very bad here. There's no food. The police beat us."
"I would rather go back to Raqqa than live like this. I just want to go to Athens, and then to Germany. But they won't let us. I don't know why."
Faisal Ahmed, 33, Raqqa-origined Syrian
Migrants from Syria paddle toward shore while completing a journey in a small dinghy crossing a three mile stretch of the Aegean Sea from Turkey August 31, 2015 in Kos, Greece. Migrants from many parts of the Middle East and African nations continue to flood into Europe before heading from Athens, north to the Macedonian border. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II.
  • Dan Kitwood
Migrants from Syria paddle toward shore while completing a journey in a small dinghy crossing a three mile stretch of the Aegean Sea from Turkey August 31, 2015 to Kos, Greece. Migrants from many parts of the Middle East and African nations continue to flood into Europe before heading from Athens, north to the Macedonian border. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary.
Syria refugees journey through Europe
Battling bankruptcy and an uncertain future within the European Union, Greece registered 125,000 refugee arrivals in the first seven months of the year, a dramatic increase over the same period in 2014. The island of Kos like the other islands famed for their tourism orientation and spectacular beauty, is attempting to cope with an unprecedented flood of refugees and migrants.

The mayor of Kos, Yorgos Kyritsis, has consistently spurned recommendations that a refugee reception centre be built on the island. The four thousand or so migrants awaiting documentation on Kos sleep in tents wherever they find a place for themselves. The two-week wait for registration over, migrants can purchase a ticket on a specially designated boat that will take them to Athens. Once there, most begin a long walking trek north through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. On their way to Germany.

The refugees don't find a warm welcome on the Greek islands throughout the Greek archipelago. There was sympathy for their plight in flight from conflict, but that has waned as their numbers keep increasing and their numbing need has swamped the capacity of people living in the islands to deal with their influx. Their presence has had its inevitable deleterious effect on tourism, and since there are only five months when locals can make a living from the tourist trade to last them through the year, their presence is resented now.

Many of the restaurants geared to the tourist trade won't serve food to the asylum seekers. Even the public toilets in the city have been locked to ensure that migrants cannot use them Instead the new arrivals must wash and shave in the Aegean Sea. That they do so within sight of sunbathing tourists provides a contrast between the entitled and the unwanted.

The situation has been compounded by the appearance of economic migrants arriving along with the refugees. They have begun their journey from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Central Africa. As for the asylum seekers themselves, their situation holds little promise to fulfill the hopes with which they embarked on their perilous journey toward haven. Because of a lack of money and documents, they feel trapped where they are, constrained from travelling further.
Migrants Kos Turkey dinghies
Migrants Kos Turkey dinghies

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