Leros provides refuge to migrants

The eastern Aegean island of Leros has received an estimated 3,500 would-be migrants from neighboring Turkey this year, according to authorities, who say they continue to offer hospitality and care to the exhausted visitors despite the drain on their resources. Some 250 immigrants have arrived on the island over the past two weeks alone. Last week, four arrived by jet ski. But even as authorities on other Aegean islands like Patmos block their ports to the influx of immigrants, locals on Leros appear to be unfazed. The local coast guard and Orthodox Church continue to do their best to rescue and tend for migrants arriving on their shores. Even businessmen have joined in the humanitarian effort. One hotelier has been offering temporary refuge for immigrants in his rooms for more than a year. «I was a migrant in the USA for 35 years,» said Fotis Filakouris, who runs the Ara hotel. «I know what it means to be an immigrant and that’s why I don’t call them illegal immigrants,» he said. Filakouris says he is not receiving European Union funding for the service he offers to the Europe-bound migrants. Recently he received state compensation for expenses he incurred last year. «They won’t change my good intentions, I am borrowing money from my brother to pay my bills,» Filakouris said, adding that he had taken on an Afghan boy to help him with odd jobs in the hotel. He said that some locals criticize his actions. «It upsets me that they don’t feel any sense of social obligation to support these people,» he said. The local church has set aside the ground floor of the local old people’s home for migrants, cleaned twice a week by members of the congregation. Most migrants arriving on the island are taken there. Those who do not fit there are transferred to two makeshift hostels. But there are concerns about what happens to these migrants when they are transferred to Athens. According to sources, when 80 migrant mothers with their children were transferred from Leros to Piraeus about a month ago, there was no one waiting to collect them.