Sunday, November 1, 2015

Refugees Seek Better Life in Greece

Europe welcomes people from countries like Syria, who are in need of new
homes. (via Aggi Cantrill)
By: Erica King
Edited by: Joshua Lim

Some people are asleep, laying their heads to the person next to them as seawater splash their faces; others are stepping into a small boat, getting ready to make a long journey to a better life.

Roaring waters rock the boats, causing them to sway side to side. Food is scarce. There is nothing around these people except seawater and the unknown that lies underneath the water’s surface. They try to remain warm to avoid hypothermia.

These people are mainly from Syria and other countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Pakistan. They put their lives in jeopardy to travel to Europe in hopes of having better lives in return. They are people in desperate need of a new home. They are considered refugees. Syrians are fleeing their country from ongoing violence.

More than 200,000 people have lost their lives since 2011, including 70,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict between Kurdish militia members battling state forces, according to a World Post article titled A Brutal Reminder of Why SyriansAre Fleeing to Europe. The number of deaths continue to increase.

Most refugees are passing through or settling in Greece. Despite Greece’s economic issues, including the recent financial collapse, the Greeks still lend a helping hand to the incoming refugees.

Sophia Saouridou, a secretary for a volunteer group in Greece, helps collect canned goods, water, clothing and shoes for the refugees. Most refugees she and her team help are close to Greece’s border.

The refugees take buses to Idomeni, Greece, where they can receive medical help. The doctors that tend to the people are French and Norwegian. Saouridou is also trained in first aid and tends to the refugees in need of medical attention.

“The last time I went to the camp on Sept. 20, there were about 4,000 people who came through the camp in just 12 hours,” Saouridou said. “Because of the climate changes and colder temperatures, last Saturday I went on Oct. 4, there was an estimate of 2,500 refugees.”

Challenges crossing the Greek border
Although refugees are receiving help in Greece, crossing the border from Greece is not always an easy task. Their number one destination is Germany.

“A family of four was approached by a smuggler and had to pay the smuggler double just to reunite with the rest of their family,” Saouridou said. “They wouldn’t let them through the border line if they did not pay.”

She added if refugees had darker skin or were Pakistani, the patrol would close the borders and shoot them with plastic bullets.

Aggelos Konstantinidis, who works for the Civil Protection for Greece, agrees the refugees do not always have a smooth transition traveling from one country to another.

Konstantinidis has worked as a volunteer rescuer for 10 years. He even helped in Indonesia in 2005 after the country experienced a tsunami. With many years of experience, he was called to work as a team leader for the refugee mission. Konstnatinidis claims the process has to be quick in order for the refugees to keep moving along in their journey to their destination.

“It’s difficult to keep together,” he said. “There are usually 30 to 40 buses arriving at the same time. A few thousand people have to go through the camp. They have to pass through the humanitarian line, get food and medical care.”

He explained the process has to be quick because authorities of neighboring countries can close the border without any notification. If the borders close, refugees will stay in house tents — thousands at a time and not all are protected from the weather elements.

“We’ve had no fatalities, thank God,” Konstantinidis said. “There have been cases where people had their lives in danger due to prior medical conditions, but they were treatable conditions.”

Limited funding to assist refugees

Konstantinidis said Greece has had little funding help from the European Union. Greece allows refugees to receive treatment from hospitals for free, but the country is partly inexperienced when a crisis occurs.

Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest Keleti railway
station. (via MstyslavChernov)
Although the European Union hasn’t been much help, a Greece resident that would like to referred to as Jazz claims the EU gave nearly 167 million euros for internal security at the borders.

“It's way too easy to blame the EU for all Greece's problems; time to wake up,” Jazz said. “This country got messed up because we all let it go to hell by voting for the crooks (and some others, by no voting), by accepting bribes within our culture, by ignoring the law, if anything the EU has been too tolerant.

“We, our parents and our grandparents are responsible and it is our children the ones who are to eat or to emigrate to get away from all this.”

Dimitris, a Greek local who is not comfortable with giving his full name, disagrees and thinks the European Union is to blame.

“There have been funds given to Greece to deal with the problem, but the state is not only corrupt but also a monster of bureaucracy,” Dimitris said. “The system cannot deal with the past numbers let alone todays Europeans know this.”

Despite citizens’ opinions of the European Union, Greece seems to be handling the issue very well.

“Many Greek civilians are helping alleviate the pain,” Konstantinidis said.

Chrisa Chatzistouyanni, a volunteer group leader in Greece, said her organization has recently reached out to the mayor of Thessaloniki to make an announcement for help. Chatzistouyanni claims the volunteer group has even called families to help out.

“Families are having problems because of the debt crisis in Greece, but they are still trying to give,” Chatzistouyanni said. “We will see how efforts will go to see what can happen in the future.”

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