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Letter from Athens: Who Cares About Refugees and Migrants in Greece?

Αssociated press

An Afghan woman holds her child upon their arrival from Lesbos island to the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Monday Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In a chilling recounting of just how gruesome the fate was for hundreds of refugees and migrants who've tried to reach Greece since hundreds of thousands started coming in 2015, hoping to find new lives in the European Union after fleeing war and strife and poverty in their homelands, real heroes in the Samos Divers Club on the island within sight of Turkey were called to pull up bodies from the sea.

It was Nov. 1 that year, not many months after millions of people trying to get away from Syria's civil war, the endless war of Afghanistan, misery in sub-Saharan Africa and as far away as Pakistan and Bangladesh went to Turkey as a jumping-off point to get to Greek islands, hoping to hop onto more prosperous countries before the European Union closed its borders to them.

The Greek Coast Guard called in the divers after a report of a vessel in distress off the coast of the island that's within sight of Turkey, which lets human traffickers operate during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the EU. Desperate, frightened people are sent across the perilous Aegean in rickety craft and overcrowded rubber dinghies, many wearing cheap, fake life vests.

By the time the divers got to the spot, the Turkish-flagged Kusadasi Ilgun, carrying refugees and migrants, had gone down just 40 meters (131 feet) from land, Kathimerini's Tassoula Eptakili wrote in a piece about how the island's Mayor – today – was warning about overcrowding in a detention center holding 6000 refugees and migrants – almost matching the island’s population of 7000.

Giorgos Stantzos, one of the four divers, said they went down six meters (20 feet) and discovered the bodies of four women and six children who had drowned after being trapped in the cabin.

No names, just more numbers – including another 54 through July 24 this year – plus seven more recently, more victims of a crisis no one cares about apart from the activists, NGO's, volunteers – many from other countries – and brave Greek fishermen who saved countless others. Otherwise, no one cares really.

It's just too depressing and besides in our world and society the heroes play sports and score goals and points, rather than put on diving gear to bring up the bodies of children or join a Coast Guard patrol trying to prevent more from sinking to one of the most horrible deaths a human can suffer.

“It was a new and shocking experience for us all. It tested our limits; both in terms of our skills as divers but also our emotional resilience. But it also gave us a sense of unity and determination. We swore that we would be there next time to bring the people to safety. Next time we’d save people, not retrieve their bodies,” Stantzos told the paper.

If people didn't care about a body they could see – 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi – whose limp, wet, lifeless body washed back up on a beach on Bodrum, Turkey before his family could get very far on their way to a Greek island – they sure as hell don't care about four women and six children who drowned in a boat cabin under water where they couldn't see, nor the woman and child who died in a fire set during a riot at the Moria detention camp on Lesbos, a facility the BBC called “the worst in the world” during a time when former Premier Alexis “No Conscience” Tsipras of the then ruling Looney Left SYRIZA said he was “proud” of the conditions and was ripping EU leaders for crying crocodile tears over the refugees.

Aylan died along with his 5-year-old brother and their mother when their small rubber boat capsized as it headed for Greece. “It is a very painful picture to view,” Peter Bouckaert, Director of Emergencies at Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press.

“It had me in tears when it first showed up on my mobile phone. I had to think hard whether to share this.” Those, by the way, were real tears, not the crocodile tears or the phony ones Tsipras and other politicians shed as they talked in fake sincerity about how much they cared while asking for someone to pass the steak sauce at their lunch.

The 4 1/2-year SYRIZA reign – the party of the people, the downtrodden, the powerless – was a disaster for refugees and migrants in Greece, a time during which the Brussels Bureaucrats slammed shut the door and left the problem largely on Greece, along with Italy, Malta, and Spain.

So now it's fallen to the new New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to sort out the mess, and he got surprised when, after 2 ½ years of a relative lull in arrivals, the numbers and boats arriving on Greek islands began to pick up fast and furiously.

His response was that of a politician: speed the processing of asylum applications of more than 28,000 people on islands and another 50,000 on the mainland as well as speeding deportations of those deemed ineligible for sanctuary, but nothing about improving conditions in the pens and tents in which people have been trying to survive, some more than two years, finding themselves victims yet again of a government which doesn't really care about them, except as numbers.