So we have now experienced in our home the tragedy of refugees that has afflicted the last 6-7 years millions of people who lived in areas with acute problems of violence and violation of human rights.
On Christmas night, a boat that had started from the coast of Smyrna in the morning, with about 80 passengers, capsized around 6 pm near to the “Mermingas” rocks after a mechanical failure. 63 castaways were rescued and transferred to Paros.
I met the survivors the morning after their shipwreck. They had spent some nightmarish days in Istanbul and Smyrna, crammed into hiding places and trucks, without food and water, before boarding on the boat that would take them to the promised land, to the Europe of freedom, human rights, culture, and prosperity. At least that’s how they envision it! The truth is that their first European experience, Paros, did not discredit their vision. The care they were given by many Parians, from the fishermen who arrived first at the shipwreck site to the people who spontaneously rushed to offer everything they could to improve their living, was thrilling. “This display of European humanism moves me”, I have heard many refugees say! I have not tried to bring them to the reality of the suffering that awaits them in the gears of the non-existent Greek and European immigration policies. After all it didn’t took long as the very next day after their arrival, concerns began to be expressed on social media about how long the refugees would stay on the island, and a former local official did not hesitate to encourage the “..organization of a large mobilization for the immediate transfer of refugees-immigrants ..“!
The 63 survivors are Syrians (mostly), Palestinians and Afghans. Therefore, they are people who would probably have the right to political asylum if they had been given the opportunity as provided by international law. Instead, the authorities prioritized a criminal investigation around the ship’s crew localization, preventing the shipwrecked even from giving their news to their families. Instead, most European governments are obstructing the creation of legal routes for refugees. As a result, they push desperate people to traffickers who exploit their despair and lack of other legal paths. Our government succeeded with the help of Frontex and with documented now “pushbacks”, to block the traditional smugglers’ roads in the Aegean. Only to have new routes open, more dangerous ones, crossing the Aegean, going around the Peloponnese to the Ionian Sea, with Italy as destination. This was also the route of the 80 passengers of the boat that sank next to us. In their effort to get somewhere safe, they were forced to sell everything they had and pay €8,000 per capita to the traffickers.
Europe, which likes to repeat that it is building itself based on its values (respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, respect for human rights, including those of minorities), must stop burying its head in the sand, and process legal and safe roads for asylum seekers!