“Since two years ago, here in Chios, we slept with the door open. Nothing happened, because we know everyone. Today however almost everyone has alarm or insurance on their house: we are scared of what we can’t see and what we can’t control. In the last few months we have suffered violence and theft carried out by refugees who have not fled from any war. The island of Chios was a beautiful place to live or spend a holiday. Not anymore. This cruel game between Turkey and Europe has transformed our island into a filtering system for migrants and refugees.” This is not the voice of a mayor, an assessor or a politician: these words come from ordinary people, the couple Nanà and Giorgios Agios who live in the Old Town of Chios.
Every morning they open the shutters to let the light enter into the bedroom and to help them wake up. But the new day does not bring a smile to their faces: they say “Kaliméra” to the guards of the refugee camp of “Souda” which is right below their house, in the heart of the archaeological and monuments area of the city, where around 1,200 refugees live. The shelter is a very long line of containers from Unhcr that are hung in an area of about 6 kilometres squared leading into the harbour behind, where other tents and make-shift camps meet the pebbles and the water of the Aegean.
Refugee camp “Souda”, Chios, Island of Chios. The refugee camp was installed inside the archaeological and monument area of the Castle of Giustinaiani, built in the Byzantine era in the 4th century AD. The installation of the camp contributed in a determinate way to the crash of tourism on the island.
For the citizens of Chios enough is enough: they are tired of the local institutions who will not – or are not able to – resolve the problem and they are tired of the same refugees who continue to contribute to the problem and chaos that damages the social micro-economy of the island. Soul and Vial, in fact, were theaters of various tense situations (fires, raids and stabbing) exploding because of the diverse – perhaps far too many – ethnicities and religious communities that reside there. The most recent happened on 5th March 2007, when two rival clans clashed in Vial and threw stones and abuse at each other and fights broke out on the whole island.
Chios, house of the Agios family. Nanà helps her son with his homework; “This cruel game between Turkey and Europe has transformed our island into a filtering system for migrants and refugees.”
A few months ago in Sino it was difficult to discern unhappiness in the words of the Greeks. The huge refugee crisis back in 2015 displaced the entire Hellenic community, but feelings of help and support for the others had prevailed over the rest. Today however the situation could not be more different: in Greece and on the north eastern Aegean islands a confused and schizophrenic narrative seems to have taken place, caused by inconsistencies, a tale marked by intolerance, cultural isolation and xenophobia, and on the other side local community and single individuals who are taking responsibility in helping and supporting refugees alongside the NGOs. “I’ve never had problems in filling my room. We are family run, little is enough. Today however I put on the fire to prepare the place where I cook the fish only when I see customers come into the restaurant.” From the island of Lesbo Irene Filautis speaks of when her husband assisted the refugees who arrived on the banks of Agrilia Kratigou “with his own hands”, just a few kilometers south of Mytilene. While she complains about her situation, from her phone she shows the pictures of building blocks occupied by refugees and of the occasional dumpster that has been set on fire in the public park of the city.
Mytilene, Lesbo. Irene Filautis in her restaurant. “Today however I put on the fire to prepare the place where I cook the fish only when I see customers come into the restaurant.”
She is very courteous and welcoming, like all the Greeks however. And it is interesting to notice that the sentiments that are in the air are often very close to the disadvantage, to the resignation and loss of the other’s sense of self, it is right here where the most important values of culture and of western policies were born. The red light that caresses the coast of Molivos illuminates the pile, or better, the mountain of hundreds and thousands and millions of life jackets used by the migrants to cross from Turkey seems to confirm this finding, and sadly is telling of the migration problem in Greece that is so rooted in the country it is almost part of the landscape.
Eftalou, Molyvos, Lesbo. A tip outside the urban area that collects the millions of life jackets and wrecked boats used by migrants to make the crossing.
The flux of migrants and the installment of camps contributes largely to the tourism crash. In the study of January 2017 published by the Laboratory for Tourism Research and Studies of the Aegean University, curated by Professor Theodore Stavrinoudis from the Medesima University and Stanisla Ivanof from the University of Varna in Bulgaria on the effects of migration on the economy of tourism, the percentages show us that there were drops of 43% in incomes, 36% in revenues and 24% in market prices. Now the banks of the Aegean beaches don’t have umbrellas or sunbeds for tourists on them any more but instead act as a space for the carcasses of dead animals.
Eftalou beach, Molyvos, Lesbo. In 2016 along this beach a few corpses of dead refugees who died during their journey across the sea were found. Now it is a deserted beach. During a walk in search for signs of migration left on the shoreline, I came across this carcass of a dog, that had died some months earlier and had been left to rot.
“Every morning I look out of the window and I hope to not see migrants on the beach in front of my restaurant. We have been here for thirty years and we only have one season to work in, nothing else. For us it is difficult to keep going because the tourists are not interested in the situation. They want to sit here outside, relax and have a drink. They can’t see certain things.” The Eftalou Taverna is completely deserted as Manuel, the owner, explains how difficult it is for tourism to continue to go on in such a place “invaded by migrants. We are open only because here in Eftalou we know everyone and many come to see us.”
Eftalou, Molyvos, Lesbo. Manuel is the owner of the Eftalou Tavern: “Every morning I look out of the window and I hope to not see migrants on the beach in front of my restaurant.”
These fleeting portraits of the Greek population describe a frozen situation that threatens the economic and social survival of the Hellenic community but that is in contrast to other reality present on the Aegean islands that works in the favour of the thousands of refugees present on the islands. In the words that belong to Eric Kempson, a sculptor of English origin but who moved to Lesbo and who for years has offered his own help as well as his wife Philippa’s help towards the migrants fleeing Turkey: “In February 2015 we started to help these people because they were arriving in a disastrous state, from war zones and with gun wounds. They landed right on the beach in front of us.” Eric and Philippa’s family respond with Ellenis Workshop, a creative laboratory that produces artistic manufacturing to be sold, with the proceeds then donated as aid to migrants. Every day Eric, Philippa and the volunteers visiting the workshop receive donations of all kinds and from all continents (clothes, medicine, first aid kits, thermal equipment etc) that they catalog and distribute to the masses in difficulty. This commitment is the voice of these lively groups that use art and creativity as exchange vehicles in favour of human dignity, breaking into what is the present and unstable scenario of the NGOs committed to Greece and the Mediterranean. “I always say that we are in need of an international organ to govern the humanitarian agencies and the NGOs, because many of these are just doing business.” The accusations made by Eric are harsh, but the enunciation of these words comes from years of work on the territory of Lesbo and from a knowledge of how the logistics of life guarding organised NGOs really works: “In October 2015 they said that on the island there were present around 120 non governmental organisations. I believe that 80% of these NGO are corrupt, solely aiming to make money from this catastrophe.”