An 11.5-foot tall puppet named Little Amal, on a 5,000-mile journey from Turkey to the United Kingdom to show the plight of Syrian refugees and unaccompanied minors wanting sanctuary in Europe, was prohibited in some areas of Greece and stoned in another.
That happened as it passed through the central city of Larissa where the newspaper Kathimerini said the derision from locals there indicated pelting it with rocks and others holding religious symbols accosted people who supported the initiative, forcing police to intervene.
Local reports referred to what they described as xenophobic responses of those opposed to the puppet passing through their city, the paper said, the puppet leaving Greece to go to Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and ending in the British city of Manchester on Nov. 3.
It had passed through other Greek cities and towns without difficulty and even being applauded and embraced, the paper noted, with Greece holding some 100,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan.
Turkey is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union but has continued to let human traffickers keep sending more to Greece, mostly to five islands near Turkey's coast.
Greeks who had been cheered, and even received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for welcoming the first wave of people in 2016 have grown weary of them, asylum seekers penned up in detention centers and camps.
Greece also has a small but vociferous and viciously anti-immigrant camp among the far right although the biggest, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, has essentially been busted up with its leaders and dozens of members jailed for running a criminal gang.
The puppet represents a 9-year-old Syrian girl from a country in a long-running civil war that has brought no sanctions from the United Nations and endures, pushing hundreds of thousands away on a journey to Europe.
The European Union has closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece, including during a brutal economic and austerity crisis that was overwhelming the country.
In a feature, The New York Times noted that the puppet is the lead character in an ambitious theater project called The Walk to draw attention to the ordeal of those fleeing Syria, thousands in Greece, especially on its islands.
LONG WALK AWAY FROM HOME
Amal, who “walks” with the aid of the team of puppeteers accompanying her, is not welcome everywhere. The local council of Meteora, a municipality in central Greece famed for its monasteries on cliffs, voted to ban the puppet from going through.
The objection was raised by several council members upset that the puppet shows a Muslim refugee in a town noted for its devout Orthodox worshipping sites that draws tourists.
The local Bishop opposed the project not indicating how Christian that was, while a heritage group complained that the initiative could bring more refugees to the country, the paper said.
Greece's New Democracy government has taken a particularly hard stance against refugees and migrants, now extending a border fence along the Evros River with Turkey to stop an expected wave of Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
Migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, said that Greece “will not allow itself to become a gateway to Europe for illegal migration flows, as it was from 2015 to 2019,” when New Democracy ousted the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
The local heritage association in Meteora said it was particularly worried that the puppet initiative could encourage a new wave of refugees to Greece.
“How much solidarity can Greece show?” Grigorios Kalyvas, the association’s head, said. “Isn’t there a limit to what we can do and how many we can take?” he told The Times.
Meteora Mayor Theodoros Alekos, said he was anxious about the presence of a “Muslim doll from Syria” in an area rich in Orthodox significance and popular for religious tourism.
The puppet would not be prevented from crossing the municipality’s main town of Kalambaka on its way through Greece, the council decided, but wouldn't be allowed in villages close to the monasteries.
David Lan, one of the producers of “The Walk,” told the paper from Greece that he hadn't expected opposition, but wasn’t surprised given how some people in Europe perceive refugees. “It’s a very live issue with Afghanistan,” he added.
And on the Greek island of Chios, choirs sang to welcome her as an orchestra played. “The meaning’s obvious,” Lan said, referring to the aim of the project. “It’s ‘Don’t forget about us.’”