SP leader Emile Roemer visits refugee camp in Greece

22 February 2016

SP leader Emile Roemer visits refugee camp in Greece

Foto: SP

SP leader Emile Roemer, along with the party’s Senate group leader Tiny Kox and General Secretary Hans van Heijningen, is visiting the refugee camps in Greece. Despite the massive problems with which Greece is faced, the left Syriza government is doing all it can to organise the decent reception of the refugees. ‘The Greeks can be proud of themselves and of their government,’ says Roemer. ‘I know of countries in Europe in much better financial and economic condition which could take their example from them.’

The refugee problem is a bridge too far for a Syriza government confronted by austerity policies imposed by the Troika. Last year Greece had to process some million refugees, costing the country an estimated billion euros. Despite the fact that a great many Greeks are living at or below the poverty line, the government has succeeded in providing humane reception for the refugees.

Volunteers from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece and many other countries are moved by deep concern for the fate of the refugees. Aided by one volunteer from the Netherlands, Chava van der Lek, we are able to come into contact with refugees who have arrived in Piraeus, close to the Greek capital, from Lesbos, Samos and other Greek islands. In the departures-and-arrivals hall the majority of people are lying on the floor sleeping, talking to each other or playing with their children. Most of the refugees have a bag and some a rucksack with a few paltry possessions with them. All ages, a few people in wheelchairs or with crutches, a woman who seems to have no idea who she is or where she is. Some sit on a blanket, others on the bare floor.

Foto: SP

Of the few hundred people in the arrivals hall, hardly anyone speaks English, though there is at least one exception. A young man from Iraq buttonholes Emile Roemer, anxious to tell the story of his flight. “I come from Mosul, Iraq,” he begins, “and it was our misfortune that our town was invaded by ISIS. It isn’t true, however, that they chop everyone’s heads off, but for non-believers and the better educated they are happy to make an exception. I wasn’t myself so quick to flee. Because who wants to leave his country? But because I want to see my six-year-old have a decent future, my wife and I erred on the side of caution and fled. Leaving for Baghdad wasn’t an option for us because we’re Sunni and don’t feel safe there.

Foto: SP

Emile Roemer listening to a Syrian refugee’s story

“Having escaped from ISIS, we paid $4,000 to the Free Syrian Army to get us over the border. But they didn’t deliver and that money was lost. Eventually we did get to Turkey nevertheless, because the Turkish army launched an offensive and the border opened temporarily. In that way we came to Athens with the aid of a people trafficker. Now we’re hoping to go to Germany. I’ve spoken to a lot of people sitting in this hall and have come across many who are highly educated. They want to do something in return for the countries in Europe who are giving us refuge. Countries which offer us security and give us the chance to pick up the threads deserve our gratitude and support.”

On 18th August Camp Eleonas opened in Athens. At the moment 530 people are staying there. They remain for up to four days, at which point they leave for the border. Those who have no chance of being given asylum sometimes stay longer, especially if they come from countries, such as Pakistan, which refuse to take rejected asylum seekers back. In the model camp education is offered in English, Arabic and Farsi. “It’s anything but brilliant here,” we’re told, “we have problems with drinking water and electricity, but with support from Doctors Without Frontiers, the Red Cross, the Syriza government, the army and the navy, we are succeeding in keeping the camp going and giving people a decent reception.”

Foto: SP

Roemer talking with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

During our tour of the camp we bump into the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He is busy making a film about war refugees – a massive project – and is intending, following his visits to Lebanon and Greece, to continue to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In his view humanity stands at a crossroads: will humanity and compassion be victorious, or will we sink into consumerism and say ‘let them drown’. The artist, himself no stranger to controversy, is taking a stand: we owe it to ourselves to offer solidarity. Ionette Kavvadia, who represents Syriza in the Left Group of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, translated Ai Weiwei’s message to Greece.

“I’m so pleased that the left is at the moment running things in Greece!” she says “We are doing everything to encourage contact between the Greeks and the refugees. At the same time we see that the Greeks are apprehensive about the growing stream of refugees, certainly following Turkey’s opening of the border last week in the wake of the bomb attack in Ankara. People are asking themselves whether they and our government can cope, certainly when Macedonia and other European countries slam shut their borders.”

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