The Arrival by Stefania Mizara
The immigration flow from the Arab world and Africa towards the southern states of Europe has started more than ten years ago. Continuous wars are driving people out of their houses in search of security and better life.
But the first two months of 2016 the number of people arriving in Greece exceeded 100,000. According to the International Organization for Migration, 21 times more people arrived in January 2016 than during the same period last year. These overwhelming rates of arrival prompted volunteer groups from Europe and other parts of the world to continue to galvanize aid and conduct rescues at sea.
Larger NGOs have been assisting the UNHCR since the Greek government set up open reception hotspots for refugees in September 2015. But, over the winter months, as the arrivals continued despite harsh weather, increasing numbers of smaller organized groups of doctors, trained lifeguards and nurses arrived from around the world to help.
Platanos, a self-organized Greek initiative that sprang up in solidarity with hundreds of refugees arriving from Lesbos in boats over summer 2015, has led by example. “I remember the sense of belonging to a community,” said Vasilis, a 40-year-old man who works in the private sector. He is part of the Platanos rescue team that helps people after they disembark and had taken time off from work to help. “I had already felt that way during the Syntagma protests in 2011 when we occupied the central square of Athens for almost three months. Here at Platanos, as in Syntagma four years ago, we are doing the same by organizing different teams in charge of food, cleaning, information, storage,” he explains.
In the absence of concerted E.U. efforts to aid arrivals, Greeks have played a particularly vital role in providing assistance. Solidarity movements, which became Greece’s first line of defense over the past years of E.U.-imposed austerity cuts, have also extended their support to refugees in need of medical aid, food, shelter, clothing and legal counseling.
An unexpected camaraderie has been brewing between Greek citizens and refugees as both groups feel marginalized by their respective governments’ policies and lack of sufficient support from the international community, especially the E.U. Local groups and community initiatives that fostered social cooperatives and civil society groups to cope with the impact of austerity measures have empathized with refugees, who have also been forced into destitution after losing their homes and communities, squats are opened in the center of Athens for housing the refugees and give them a better option than the camps.
The people of the social movements are angry. They are angry at Europe, at Frontex, at their “leftist” government. Sometimes in Platanos, the land occupation in Lesvos they burst into tears when receiving groups arriving in states of shock. They brace themselves as they handle wet babies with hypothermia and mothers with nothing, not even dry clothes. Most importantly, they remain – even as others leave. Day after day, group after group, person after person, they assist those in need without losing their empathy.
“Solidarity is only a reaction,” said Iason a 30 year old engineer volunteering in one of the land occupations. “But it is not a solution, as we have to fight and change the politics. Europe should open its borders and not let the sea, here or elsewhere, become a graveyard.”