Public concern about the increase in migrant and refugee flows is perfectly understandable, even though we all know that the only thing the people landing on Greece’s shores want is to leave. They are hoping to reach Western Europe and Greece is merely viewed as a stop on that journey. Nevertheless, the influx is daunting, especially for a country that was thrust into a major economic crisis, went through hell and is now trying to regain its balance and return to a state of what we call normalcy.
But the waves of humans that keep arriving on our shores are creating fear and this is being exacerbated by vote-mongering politicians, conspiracy theories disseminated via social media, a complete lack of public information and the deep conviction that the Greeks are special and despised for it by forces bent on their demise: Once it was by destroying their language, later by the memorandums and now by “colonizing” the country with people of a different race and religion.
Such widespread and unfounded concerns cannot be addressed simply by appealing to the humanity of the Greeks, who themselves have been leaving their country as refugees for centuries, but with reason and education. When we say education, we don’t mean the profound knowledge of Aeschylus’ “Suppliants,” but an effort to cultivate common sense and to present the facts about a global problem where Greece finds itself on the front line as a result of its location.
The country’s intellectuals, media, politicians and community leaders have a duty to explain the complexity of the issue, Greece’s international commitments, the need for European solidarity, and the obligation that everyone has to find solutions and share the weight of this unexpected development.
In this regard, the decision of the mayor and municipal council of Eastern Samos to oppose the government’s plan to create a closed pre-deportation facility on the island for 5,000 undocumented migrants sets a poor example. Even worse was Mayor Giorgos Stantzos’ comment that “there is no way that Samos, which doesn’t have a mosque, will accept a Muslim village.” So? Samos didn’t have electricity awhile back, but now it does and it’s subsidized as it is on all the islands, precisely because they are part of one country.
The twin refugee and immigration crisis is a major challenge and those in positions of responsibility need to explain to citizens just how difficult a challenge it is, instead of cultivating delusions of sealed sea borders or kicking the can down the road. Measures will be taken, but there are no magical solutions. And the cost of its management will perforce be shared, whether a place has a mosque or not.