A debt of gratitude to ‘the foreigners’

he numerous countries that rushed to Greece’s aid and boosted firefighting efforts when much of the country was ablaze over the past week deserve our gratitude. But the same gratitude should also be shown to thousands of foreigners living in our country – Albanians and others – who responded to the racism and mistrust they face from many citizens by undertaking gargantuan efforts to prevent damage being wreaked by fires to homes, in most cases not their own. The images of immigrants struggling on blazing tracts of farmland in Ileia and other prefectures, battling to extinguish the flames, were reminiscent of the Filipino migrants who, a few weeks ago, did exactly the same thing on the slopes of Mount Pendeli, in many cases in the absence of their Greek employers who had been on vacation. The problems that exist between natives and foreigners are well known and deeply rooted. And, of course, this does not only apply to Greece. We have seen the same phenomena in all countries with a significant immigrant population. In actual fact, over the past few years in Greece, friction between natives and immigrants has gradually abated as each side has come to know the other better. We have learnt to live together. The incorporation of immigrants into everyday life has culturally enriched Greek society. Meanwhile the foreigners living in our country have proved to be a catalyst for economic growth over the past two decades. The most developed economies in the world and in Europe – America and Germany respectively – teach us that the presence of immigrants (which in the countries in question include approximately 1 million Greeks) are an advantage, not a weakness. Armed with the motivation of financial need, immigrants often develop into the most productive members of their societies. In past few days, a number of foreigners have been arrested, implicated in alleged arson attacks on forestland. Some of these people – either trapped in extreme poverty or mentally unstable – may indeed have been torching our forests and jeopardizing our future. But it is not just foreigners who are guilty. Certain Greeks have been just as criminal in their behavior. But these thoughts were offset by images earlier this week of Muslim worshippers gathering in Athens and other Greek cities to pray for an end to the horrendous destruction that resulted in dozens of deaths and burnt millions of trees, sucking up our children’s oxygen. When these people struggle and pray to save our land and when their children express pride in holding the Greek flag, we cannot remain indifferent. Next time, when a few ignorant people curse the «Albanian» in their neighborhood, we should remember that the life of a «Greek» was saved by just such a foreigner. Perhaps this will make people think twice before speaking.