Last night we went to Raki Meze, a fish restaurant in Kallithea, and over a seafood meze the conversation turned to the question of immigration. Maria was talking about Agota Kristof’s memoir, the Illiterate, an account of her escape from Hungary in 1956 with her husband and small child.
Everyone Agota and her family met in Switzerland, including a local mayor, who paid for the travel of all of the refugees she was with, were welcoming and helpful. Maria said she found herself shouting about the disparity between the experiences of a woman who struggled with the sadness of having to leave her home and having to build a new one. Unlike today’s refugees, Agota Kristof didn’t have to suffer arriving in a country that is essentially hostile and punitive towards refugees and asylum seekers.
Dora described how in the 1980s there had been just one small office to deal with immigrants to Greece – most Greeks were leaving at that time- and that the influx of people that started with Albanians and continues with each successive war that breaks out around the world, has been a new phenomenon for many Greeks. Both were not denying that there was a problem, but the discussion was framed in terms of how that problem has been badly managed, ignored and politicised, so that no good or realistic policies are enacted.
If there is an acceptance that we have a responsibility to help – either as good citizens or at least as people prepared to acknowledge that after hundreds of years of empire building there is some kind of responsibility towards those who contributed to that wealth, then it’s possible for entirely different conversations about what could be done.
Dora said there are currently 17 camps, which she likened to concentration camps, that are used to hold refugees – for up to 18 months and perhaps longer. Greece therefore serves a role as a bottleneck that prevents a flood of people to the rest of Europe. We in Britain, like other European countries might say we don’t have room, but we are relying on countries like Greece to stem the flow. And the majority of EU money given to Greece is spent on facilities to hold the migrants and refugees rather than on integration or other strategies.
There are elections coming up in Greece and SYRIZA, a party many hope will gain power has threatened that unless Europe stumps up realistic amounts for that work of containment, it will simply issue papers to all those currently in limbo in Greece so that they can head towards where they want to be…