Don’t send us back to Turkey, refugees say

Children hold placards at a makeshift camp for refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni on March 23, 2016. AFP PHOTO

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

“We do not want to go back to Turkey also and not to Pakistan

Today, 18:54

Two dozen Pakistanis lean against the high fence that separates them from us and the outside world. They have been for several weeks stuck on the Greek island of Lesbos.

One of them says that inside things are difficult. “There are too many people here,” says the young refugee. “There is not enough food and space.”

It is not clear whether all of them have requested asylum. The Pakistan says it takes a long time before they get an answer. He adds: “Pakistanis don’t get asylum. Only Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis.”

Snack bar

Then a Greek guard comes running to the fence. “Please go,” he says. “You can not film, that’s forbidden.”

Since March 20, shortly after the agreement between the European Union and Turkey had come about refoulement of migrants, journalists are no longer allowed in the former hotspots. These places where refugees are collected have become prisons. Also Moriah, where the Pakistanis are imprisoned, turned into a camp where no one can go in and out.

Several aid organizations have withdrawn in protest against the detention. Occasionally, volunteers from the organizations that still are inside go to the main entrance to get coffee and sandwiches at a snack bar.

Some Spanish aid workers say they are not allowed to talk to the press. But Steven of Christian organization EuroRelief has no qualms. “It’s been so overcrowded and there are more people every day. Today again more than 300.”

And there are not enough social workers, says Steven. “There is frustration among the refugees. They are afraid and insecure and do not know what will happen. Also they are not told much, so as not to increase the tensions.”

Because there is tension inside, surely. Last week there were demonstrations of volunteers and activists who oppose the deal between the EU and Turkey. Also tomorrow morning they want to demonstrate as the first migrants will be returned to Turkey. This will be done with two Turkish ferries which already are in the port of Mytilini.

“We do not want to return to Turkey and not to Pakistan,” cries the Pakistani behind the fence. “But some say that we should go back.”

Calais ‘Jungle’: 129 unaccompanied children missing since refugee camp demolition. ‘This is simply not acceptable,’ said the charity Help Refugees UK: here.

Harsh truths behind child refugees fleeing war – alone: here.

Monday saw the first mass deportations of refugees from Greece to Turkey, beginning the implementation of the so-called EU-Turkey deal. At the beginning of March, the 28 European Union heads of government concluded a dirty pact with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to put an end to the influx of refugees into Europe once and for all. Now the ugly content of this deal has become visible. According to press reports, in the morning grey, police units collected 120 refugees from their beds in an internment camp on Lesbos, taking them to two small ferries, which then brought them to the Turkish port city of Dikili. The boats were “accompanied” by German, French, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian officers from the European border force Frontex: here.

With the sailing Monday of ferries packed with hundreds of refugees and migrants expelled from the Greek Aegean islands of Lesbos and Chios to the Turkish coastal town of Dikili, an international crime of historic dimensions has begun to unfold: here.

Greek art exhibition in Chicago, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

THE GREEKS – Agamemnon To Alexander The Great, Field Museum Highlights

24 March 2016

The Greeks is co-presented in Chicago by the Field Museum and the National Hellenic Museum (NHM). Contributions from John P. Calamos, Chairman of the Board NHM, and his Foundation made this possible.

By Leah Jeresova in the USA:

An exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago

The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great

2 April 2016

The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, at the Field Museum in Chicago, November 25, 2015–April 10, 2016. The exhibition catalog is edited by Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki and Anastasia Balaska. Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture and Sports. Athens, Kapon Editions, 2014.

The most comprehensive exhibition of Greek art and artifacts ever to tour outside Greece opened at the Field Museum of Chicago on November 25. This highly recommended show will be on view until April 10. From Chicago, it will move to the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. and be on display from May 26 through October 9.

The Greeks were a diverse group of peoples inhabiting mainland Greece and the Greek islands, and, in ancient times, the coast of what is now Turkey. They shared a common language and religion, and many of the same political institutions.

Over the course of the several millennia of their ascendancy, the Greeks passed through a variety of social formations: from early class societies on the basis of the “Neolithic Revolution” in agriculture that began some 10,000 years ago in western Asia to the societies, based to a large degree on slave labor, which provided the material basis for a flowering of Greek culture and politics.

“Classical beauty,” wrote Hegel in his Aesthetics, “with its infinite range of content, material, and form is the gift vouchsafed to the Greek people, and we must honour this people for having produced art in its supreme vitality”.

Greek achievements include Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey; the classical Greek drama of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; the sculpture of Phidias; the foundations of Western philosophy; the political achievement of Athenian democracy; as well as the conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenic culture had an impact on world history unlike few other civilizations, and to fully understand the development of modern society, it is necessary to study the impressive culture established by the Greeks.

“The Greeks” was organized by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs in Athens, in cooperation with curators from the four participating museums. It has already toured in Canada to wide acclaim, appearing at the Montreal Archaeology and History Complex and the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.

“The Greeks” comes at a time when harsh austerity measures have been imposed on the Greek people and the tourism industry has suffered. The Greek government has been driven by the ongoing economic crisis to sponsor a blockbuster exhibition it hopes will attract tourists from North America.

Greece today is a country being bled white by the big European banks. Unemployment stands at over 25 percent, pensions have been slashed, the health care system devastated and homelessness and hunger have increased to levels unheard of since the Second World War. …

In 2012 museums laid off of 30-50 percent of their staffs, with further cuts in the years following. Greek police have estimated that since austerity measures began in 2009, the theft of antiquities has increased by 30 percent.

In October last year, the Syriza government raised the price of admission to hundreds of museums and historical sites by between 66 and 150 percent.

The exhibition at the Field Museum brings ancient Greek history to life, through some 500 artifacts in all, loaned from 21 museums throughout the country. The curators have organized the contents chronologically and thematically into a “meet the people” experience encompassing six diverse and lively zones.

The Bronze Age (3500-1050 B.C.) is the star attraction of the first half of the exhibition. Civilization advanced rapidly from its Stone Age beginnings, when bronze—an alloy of copper and tin—became the principal material for making tools and weapons. …

The Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures benefited from their positions on important sea and land routes that allowed them to develop extensive trading networks.

Cycladic civilization flourished at the end of the third millennium B.C. Its sculpture is characterized by an abstract treatment of the human form. Marble statuettes with folded arms and oval, flat heads are typical.

The Minoans developed a sophisticated culture on the island of Crete. Precious metals and other materials were abundant (e.g., tin, copper, silver, gold, ivory). A wealthy ruling class supported the arts. Examples of Kemares ware (pottery) are impressive, with dramatic geometric motifs. A goddess figurine with upraised arms and cylindrical skirt has a bird atop her head, symbolizing divinity.

Mycenaean society developed in southern regions of mainland Greece, with the emergence of large towns anchored by great palaces. Mycenae became a powerful government and cultural center, dominated by a military aristocracy.

'Mask of Agamemnon' (Replica) © Archaeological Museum of Mycenae

The “Mask of Agamemnon,” the mythical king of Mycenae—a victor in the Trojan War—is the stunning centerpiece of the exhibition, towering over the other displays. This breathtaking gold funerary mask, 3,000 years old, was discovered in a royal grave by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who exclaimed: “I have gazed upon the eyes of Agamemnon!” However, the burial had taken place three centuries too early to be that of Agamemnon. A replica is presented here.

Mycenaean metalwork is opulent and exotic. Lions and eagles were favorite decorative motifs in this warrior culture, symbols of power and valor. A dagger on view featuring a gold inlaid spiral decoration is a masterpiece of Mycenaean craftsmanship.

The first writing systems were syllabary (a set of written characters representing syllables and serving the purpose of an alphabet) scripts on clay tablets. The visitor should not miss a display of tablets with a script known as “Linear B,” an early version of Greek, developed around 1300 B.C., found in Minoan and Mycenaean contexts on Crete and mainland Greece. “Linear B” was deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris, an English linguist, thereby demonstrating that the Mycenaeans were one of the first Greek-speaking cultures. A short film illustrates how pictograms—symbolizing wine, olive oil, armor, animals, men or women—were burned into the wet clay.

With the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, the Greeks lost their writing system and it was not until the Eighth Century B.C. that they borrowed an alphabet from the Phoenicians—another great seafaring people—and adapted it to the Greek language. A prime requirement in choosing an alphabet was its ability to transcribe complex epic poetry from the oral tradition.

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, epics written in the Eighth century B.C., depict events occurring at the dawn of the turbulent Iron Age, in tribal kingdoms along the periphery of mainland Greece. These epic poems, one of the foundations of Western literature, have a universal theme: the struggles of human beings with nature (which appear in the ancient world as fate) and with each other. Most scholars believe that the tales existed within an oral tradition, some 500 to 700 years before Homer wrote them down.

In the Iliad, Homer tells the story of the Trojan War. A famous scene from the Iliad painted on a clay vase of the late sixth century B.C. depicts the Greek warrior Achilles avenging the death of his close friend Patroclus, who had been killed by Hector—a prince of Troy. Achilles kills Hector in revenge and drags his body along the ground, tied to a chariot.

A chilling reconstruction of a Homeric funeral pyre is on view from Eleutherna in Crete. The warrior hero has been cremated, but his enemy captive has been decapitated, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. These funerary rituals were described in the Iliad.

A helmet made from the tusks of wild boars, of the type worn by Odysseus in the Iliad, is displayed, with an inlay made from hippopotamus ivory.

In the Odyssey Homer tells the story of the return voyage of Odysseus, a leading Greek general, from the Trojan War. Artifacts on display include a clay vase fragment showing the blinding of Polyphemus, a man-eating Cyclops, and a vase painting showing Odysseus enchanted by the music and voices of the seductive Sirens—both referring to episodes in the Odyssey.

A selection of bronze and gold helmets (10 in all) buried with Bottiaean tribal ruler-warriors shows us the face of war in the Archaic period (seventh to sixth century B.C.). The viewer should note the decorative gold mouthpieces, gilded swords, javelins and other weaponry. The Bottiaeans inhabited Central Macedonia.

By the eighth century B.C., the polis (autonomous city-state) had become the basic political unit of Greek civilization. These societies evolved through various forms of government—ruled by aristocracies, oligarchies, tyrannies and, finally, democracies. In the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., Athens was the most powerful polis in Greece. All of these societies had an economic basis in agriculture, especially the cultivation of wheat, wine and olive oil, farmed by a mixture of free peasant and slave labor.

In 480 B.C. at the Battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans under King Leonidas staged a heroic resistance and experienced a bitter defeat at the hands of the Persian Empire, which had attempted to bring the Greek city-states under its sway. Athenian victories over the Persians soon paved the way for Athenian dominance in the Classical Period. A marble statue of Leonidas from the Acropolis of Sparta is prominently displayed.

The Classical Period in Athens represents what archaeologists refer to as an authoritative cultural standard, characterized by developments in philosophy, literature, the arts and sciences and democracy.

Athens was one of the world’s first democracies. Citizens (most free adult men, including both rich and poor) were expected to serve on juries and participate in civic life. A number of small objects used by the courts are displayed, including a pinakion (juror’s identification ticket); ballots (round bronze disks), for acquittal or conviction of the accused; court tokens used for paying juror’s fees; and wage tokens used to pay salaries of citizens who were chosen by lot to serve a public function.

The spirit of civic competition was evident in the inter-city Olympic Games held every four years. The graphic identification of this in the exhibition is a relief in marble, showing an athlete crowning himself from 460 B.C., considered a metaphor for democracy.

A copy of the famous Stele of Democracy (Law Against Tyranny) is on view—a decree from 337/336 B.C., which depicts the figure of Democracy crowning the enthroned Demos (the people).

With the victory of King Philip II over the Athenians in 338 B.C., Greek power shifted north to Macedonia. Philip was a patron of the arts and culture, and the portion of the show treating this period contains several of the most dramatic artifacts in the exhibition.

A marble statuette of Alexander the Great, achieving immortality as the woodland god Pan with horns, from the early Hellenistic Period (the period associated with the Greeks after Alexander’s conquests), is the finest piece of sculpture in the exhibition. Pan is usually depicted as a grotesque creature, part goat. But here, Alexander is the ideal of male beauty.

A spectacular gold enamel myrtle wreath, worn by Queen Meda, wife of Philip II, is described in the catalog as “one of the most remarkable gold objects of the ancient world.” The myrtle plant is associated with the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.

The exhibition concludes with the death of Alexander the Great and the spread of Hellenism throughout Asia Minor, the Near East, Egypt and India. Hellenistic civilization thrived in the third and second centuries B.C., until it was overwhelmed by Roman power.

After its loss of political dominance, Athens remained an important cultural center. Its schools of philosophy attracted students from throughout the Mediterranean region. Finally, the Byzantine (East Roman) Emperor Justinian, deeming the pagan teaching of philosophy too threatening to Christianity, forbade the teaching of philosophy in Athens in 529 A.D.

The ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, a revolutionary act, was Karl Marx’s favorite. In Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, the father of dramatic tragedy, fire is the key to wisdom, ensuring humanity’s survival and the development of arts and industry. The brilliant craftsmanship and imaginative genius of the artifacts on display at the Field Museum bring out the reality the myth speaks to.

From the introductory film to the closing wall texts, the exhibition comments eloquently on the legacy of “eternal Greece,” which lives on within human culture as a whole.

Greece Demands IMF Explain ‘Disaster’ Remarks In Explosive Leak. A letter from Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras questions whether the country “can trust” the lender: here.

Lesbos Greeks, refugees demonstrate against Europe-Turkey anti-refugee deal

This video says about itself:

Greece: Protesters rally against EU-Turkey refugee deal in Lesbos

26 March 2016

Protesters rallied in Mytilene port on the island of Lesbos on Saturday against the agreement between the EU and Turkey for the return of refugees.

Refugees, local residents and volunteers from NGOs marched in solidarity with refugees and to denounce the EU’s refugee policies and NATO’s involvement in tackling the refugee crisis.

Starting from the port, protesters marched through the city to stop by a Greek Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy building, where police were deployed to prevent any violent incidents. The protesters then marched back to the port.

UN Urges Greece To Stop Detaining Migrant And Refugee Children: here.

Refugees in concentration camps protest

Refugees in the Moria camp in Greece protest. They are in a prison until they are to be moved out of Greece by the police and army. Photo credit:

From daily News Line in Britain:

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Army & police will be deployed in the removal of refugees

REFUGEES staged protests shouting ‘freedom’, in English, last Wednesday and Thursday, at the main gate of the Moria village ‘Detention Centre,’ that is, concentration camp, on the island of Lesbos. Greek riot police prevented them from leaving the camp.

Outside of the Moria camp’s main gate villagers and aid volunteers staged solidarity rallies. It is estimated that over 1,500 refugees have been put in the Moria concentration camp to be expelled en masse in accordance with the EU-Turkey agreement.

Both the United Nations’ Refugee Council (UNHCR) and the Doctors Without Borders have ceased collaborating with the Greek authorities on the ‘detention centres’ as well as on the vast refugee settlement at Idomeni on the Greek/Macedonian border.

Save the Children has stopped collaboration as well.

The head of the Greek section of Doctors without Borders, Marietta Provopoulou, stated on Thursday that ‘we are refusing to be related to a cynical mechanism which puts the right to asylum in danger’. She said that they will still help refugees independently.

The Greek Public Order Minister, Nikos Toskas, has confirmed that the Greek government is planning to remove all 13,000 refugees from Idomeni to ‘camps’. He said that both the army and the police will be employed in the removal of refugees but ‘peacefully’.

The Greek Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas, a physician, stated that ‘I cannot rule out the possibility that children may die at Idomeni! What I can guarantee is that we are raising our efforts so that won’t happen,’ Mouzalas said.

Greek refugee camp is ‘as bad as a Nazi concentration camp‘, says [Greek interior] minister. ‘I do not hesitate to say that this is a modern-day Dachau‘, says Panagiotis Kouroublis: here.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Close the EU’s concentration camps!

THE agreement between the EU and Turkey on dealing with the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing imperialist-inspired wars in the Middle East has quickly revealed itself to be nothing less than a blueprint for concentration camps in Greece and the forcible ‘repatriation’ of refugees back to the killing grounds they fled.

Under the agreement, refugees already in Greece will be forcibly sent back to Turkey and whilst awaiting deportation they are to be herded by police and army into military-controlled concentration camps.

This has proved too much for the aid agencies who deliver humanitarian relief to refugees and who work in war zones throughout the world.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has a record of bringing aid to vulnerable people in the most dangerous parts of the world, this week announced that it was shutting down its operations in Greek camps saying that the EU/Turkish plan is so inhumane that it would refuse to work with it.

In a statement MSF said: ‘We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalised for a mass expulsion operation, and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.’

MSF is not alone amongst aid agencies boycotting these concentration camps masquerading as ‘detention centres’. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have all withdrawn their support from these camps.

The IRC told the Greek coastguard that they would ‘not transport the world’s most vulnerable people to a place where their freedom of movement is impeded upon’.

Instead the IRC is transporting those refugees it saves from drowning to areas outside of the camps.

The mass expulsions of refugees to Turkey has also been denounced by Amnesty International which has pointed out that Turkish law forbids Iraqis and Afghans from obtaining refugee status and has already deported them back to the countries where they face certain persecution.

Syrian nationals, who are permitted refugee status in Turkey, will fare no better. The charity Human Rights Watch has recorded numerous incidents of Syrian refugees being pushed back into the war zones of Syria. All this is completely outside international law which forbids sending refugees back to the dangers they are fleeing.

The unanimous refusal of the aid agencies to be complicit in their ‘inhuman’ and illegal agreement graphically illustrates the barbarity being meted out to the victims of imperialism’s wars to re-order and re-conquer the region. This same barbarity is behind the attacks by the ruling class against the workers of their own countries.

The Greek police who are being used to force refugees into camps are the same police used by the Greek state to break the heads of strikers fighting the savage austerity measures demanded by the EU and central bankers.

In the UK, prime minister David Cameron, who is determined to send the Royal Navy to drive refugees fleeing the carnage British and French imperialism created in Libya back to the hell hole they created in that country, is simultaneously driving a war against the working class at home through smashing the welfare state and the NHS.

The capitalist class is attempting to create an armed fortress of Europe with concentration camps and borders guarded by barbed wire to keep the victims of its wars out while at the same time waging brutal wars of austerity against workers.

The working class of Britain and Europe must reject any complicity in this barbarism and demand that the borders be opened and the camps be closed. Refugees are not the enemy. The enemy is a bankrupt capitalist system that can only survive by dumping its crisis on the backs of workers and the people of the world.

Child refugees fleeing ISIS say ‘Sorry for Brussels’

Refugee child with Sorry for Brussels sign

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Refugee children hold signs saying ‘Sorry for Brussels‘ at Idomeni camp

Thousands of families are trapped in Idomeni since the borders have been closed

Jess Staufenberg

3 hours ago

Children in one of Greece’s refugee camps have written messages of sorrow and sympathy to those affected by the Brussels attacks.

Photographs taken at the Idomeni camp on the border with Macedonia showed children with messages of support – including “Sorry for Brussels” – written both on their bodies and on cardboard placards.

It comes after three suicide bombs left at least 31 people dead in the Belgian capital.

Many of the refugees at Idomeni from Syria and Iraq are fleeing Isis, the same Islamist terrorist group which claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels.

The Idomeni refugee camp, which sprung up in the village in 2014, is now thought to contain more than 12,000 refugees fleeing the breakdown of their home countries to build a new life in Europe.

Conditions at Idomeni are comparable to “Nazi concentration camps”, according to Greek interior minister Panagiotis Kouroublis, following the closure of all borders to refugees in Macedonia.

What a shame that these children and their parents, refugees from ISIS terror, are vilified by corporate media and racist politicians as ‘terrorists’, ‘rapists‘, etc. because of the colour of their eyes and hair; and because of their supposedly being Muslim (true for many refugees, but certainly not for all).

What a shame that these children and their parents, refugees from ISIS terror, are sent back by European Union politicians to unsafe Turkey, where they may be sent back to war in Syria or Iraq.

What a shame that these children and their parents, refugees from wars started by Bush, Blair and other NATO politicians, wars which caused ISIS and similar outfits, are used by NATO politicians as a pretext for still more bloody war in the Middle East.

Refugees Stand In Solidarity With Victims Of Brussels Attacks. Many refugees are fleeing the same kinds of atrocities: here.

In the wake of the ISIS terrorist attack in Brussels, some U.S. politicians are already calling for a ban of refugees and immigrants from countries in which ISIS controls territory. Rather than justifying a refugee ban, this latest attack should act as a reminder why the United States should take the lead on welcoming those fleeing ISIS terrorism. Accepting refugees is clearly important from a humanitarian standpoint, but it is also good for America’s national security: here.

United Nations, MSF oppose imprisoning refugees in Greece

This video from Greece says about itself:

Boat landing Lesvos

20 November 2015

50-odd refugees on a 15 person dinghy means crushed legs.

More info available here.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

The international aid organization Doctors Without Borders is pulling out a refugee center on Lesbos, because it has become “a prison“. Yesterday, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR decided to limit its cooperation with the reception of refugees in closed camps.

The decision of the organizations is a major setback for the European Union, which late last week reached an agreement with Turkey on the return of refugees to Turkey. The Turkey deal specifically refers to cooperation by the UN organization.

Meanwhile, Save the Children as well has stopped cooperation as a protest against the prison camps.

The intention is that refugees immediately after arrival at the beach are taken to camps for registration and evaluation of their possible application for asylum. Those camps were closed a few days ago and are guarded draconically. …


MSF withdraws now from the camp Moria, “because refugee camps as a result of the EU-Turkey agreement have changed into deportation camps.” The organization does not want to participate in an “unfair and inhumane” system.

According to the UNHCR the measures of the agreement with Turkey have been implemented hastily without security guarantees for the refugees.

Until last weekend refugees could go freely in and out of Moria camp and take a ferry to the Greek mainland.

They should be able to board a ferry from Turkey to Lesbos or elsewhere in Greece too; instead of dangerous small boats.

From there, most were trying to travel further to Western Europe, although they have been stopped for several weeks at the Greek-Macedonian border.

Refugee crisis: Aid organisations end activities in Greece over government’s ‘police-run’ detention centres. Under the migration deal between the EU and Ankara, virtually all those arriving on the Greek islands will be returned to Turkey: here.

Helping refugees on Lesbos island, interview

This video says about itself:

Refugees Welcome – Lesvos Greece

22 December 2015

I’m an English teacher taking a year off to explore film/travel and this was my last trip of the year.

I have no volunteer experience but I wanted to see what was really happening with the refugee crisis in Lesvos, Greece.

I booked a flight, rented a van, and headed for the beaches where I found a hotel and a great volunteer group to join.

Here are some of the “rabid dogs” and “terrorists” I met there.

I would love nothing more than to make this my everyday job. Different countries, different conflicts, different people…but in the end we are all in this together.

Shot with: GoPro 3+ Black, Lumix Gh3, Iphone 5c

Poem: “Home” by Warsan Shire (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

‘Locals avoid coastal roads so they don’t have to see corpses’

Saturday 19th March 2016

[Danish daily] Dagbladet Arbejderen talks to refugee solidarity activist Var I Dali about her experiences helping desperate incomers to Lesbos island

Faroe islander Var I Dali and her sister Simone have spent four months on the Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea helping tens of thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey in flimsy rubber boats.

In October alone 100,000 people arrived on the tiny island’s shores. “I simply acted out of my frustration, I had to do something for these people in need,” says the 27-year-old, who finished her MA in international development language and cultural studies at Roskilde University Center west of Copenhagen last year.

More than a million people sought asylum in Europe last year and every month the United Nations aid agency UNHCR releases statistical data showing where the refugees are coming from.

Around 40 per cent come from Syria, a country more or less completely destroyed by bombings after five years of war. Another 30 per cent are coming from Afghanistan — a country EU president Donald Tusk recently declared “safe.” It has been almost continuously at war since the late 1970s.

One morning, Var and three other volunteers were driving along the northern coast of Lesbos. From the vehicle, they saw a rubber boat approaching. There was unrest on board. “It turned out that the boat en route from Turkey had taken in water, so the Turkish smugglers panicked and threw bags and people’s belongings overboard. In their haste, they overlooked the fact that an infant was wrapped in some of the carpets in the bottom of the boat. “The child was never found. The mother was heartbroken when the boat came ashore. She couldn’t understand why we were saying ‘now you are safe’,” recounts Var.

She accompanied the mother to a nearby refugee center in order to be registered and then contacted the Red Cross and the UNHCR. “It’s the worst thing that can happen to parents, to lose their children like that. Everybody is deeply shocked,” says Var.

Whenever the volunteers on Lesbos can see Greek rescue ships at sea and hear the sound of rushing helicopters, they know that a rubber boat has capsized and a search has begun. Twice Var I Dali has helped organise checks where relatives have had to identify their drowned children, fathers, mothers, uncles or cousins.

“The corpses are lying on the beach, and families identify them while weeping heavily. There used to be many drowned children. Normally, psychologists should be present under such circumstances, but it wasn’t the case when I was there,” Var says with regret in her voice.

She explains that several of the passengers have burn marks on their bodies because they have been sitting too close to the rubber boat motor. Others have frostbite due to the cold water.

International migration organisation IOM estimates that more than 22,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean between 2000 and 2014. “Local Greeks tell us that they are deliberately avoiding the roads running close to the coast simply to avoid seeing drowned human beings, or even just baby shoes rolling around in the shallows,” she explains.

Var is critical of narratives which suggest migrants are driven by a desire to earn more. “I refuse to believe that people leave everything they own and hold dear behind just to achieve prosperity and wealth inside Europe.

“When they arrive here, they own only the clothes they are wearing. And they never know if they or their families will survive the journey across the Mediterranean. Why do human lives have to be lost when this problem, in principle, could be solved politically?” asks Var.

“If you meet just one of these refugees while already thinking they are just migrants pursuing wealth, you will change your mind like this,” she says and snaps her fingers.

She then looks ahead, quietly. Var comes from Thorshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, but lives in Copenhagen. She explains that when the rubber boats finally reach the shores of Lesbos after an hour and a half at sea, passengers are gathered at assembly points where they get some fruit, blankets, dry clothes and medical care if needed.

All too often there are not enough tarpaulins or tents for 300-500 people at the assembly points, which is why Var has frequently witnessed men giving their indoor seats away to women and children. “The men then simply sleep outside in freezing temperatures,” she reports.

After this reception, the refugees either walk or are put onto UN buses which take them to a center where Greek police register and fingerprint them. Var helps to organise queues outside the centre, where thousands of people are given a number while waiting, standing up for hours.

When they have been given a temporary residence permit, refugees then rush to the ferry heading for Athens. Syrians will be allowed to stay in Greece for three months, while Afghans will have to leave after one.

Upon arrival in Athens they mostly set course for northern Greece and the border with Macedonia, then from there follow routes northward through Europe either on foot, or in buses and trains.

Nato actions won’t help. Var does not think Nato warships patrolling the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey in support of EU border force Frontex, currently the EU’s major response plan, will help. Nato vessels are being tasked with picking up shipwrecked refugees and send them back to Turkey.

Experts from the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council predict that actually more refugees will emerge out of this scenario. Eight-nine million internally displaced Syrians in refugee camps are already waiting to break up.

“I think that increased border control will create more danger for the refugees, as they will try to come in through other and even more dangerous routes. Some are already sailing at night, which is extremely dangerous,” Var warns.

Var travelled back to Lesbos earlier this month to help more refugees.