Guest Viewpoints

If We Knew

March 22, 2020
Christina Florakis

If my parents knew, they would beg me to stay safe. If they knew that last week the Greek government’s riot police released tear gas on civilians in Chios, Greece, the island where I was planning to volunteer, they would say, “see, you are lucky you weren’t there. You could have been one of the thousands of people beaten for protesting against the creation of expansive, locked-in refugee camps.”

They would have told me “see, you’re lucky that they didn’t burn the warehouse when you were there.”

If they knew…

But they don’t know. My parents, along with other family members and friends living in the United States, have heard little to nothing about the riots, the killings, and the drownings that have happened during the past few weeks as the Greek government started to construct permanent refugee camps on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios. Most Americans are unaware of how people fleeing from war have been living on these islands since 2015, standing in line for most of the waking day to receive meals lacking nutrients and often carrying maggots.

Greece’s refugee camps on the islands have reached four times their capacity as people live in endless rows of makeshift tents.

With terrible accessibility to sanitation, education, and basic dignity, thousands of refugees have been asked by the European Union and the rest of the world to wait, while thousands of Greek locals seeking certainty and stability in their hometowns have been asked to do the same – wait.

Wait for what? Should they wait for dozens of European Union and United Nation meetings to start and end without action plans in place to reconcile the lack of humanity people in power have been showing to innocent people fleeing from war?

Or rather, should they wait for this past week when Greeks protested against permanent, prison-like refugee camps, when Turkey’s president proclaimed that their borders to the EU are open, and when Greece’s government announced that they will no longer accept asylum-requests. In other words, should they wait for Greek locals to shout at a boat filled with adults, young children, and crying babies for an hour before pushing the raft back to the ocean? Should they wait for the Greek Coast Guard to assault a group of refugees crossing on a raft and prompt yet another child to drown?

Syria’s recent attack in Idlib sharply escalated the tension in Syria when at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike. In response to this, Turkish President Erdogan decided to open Turkey’s borders, giving thousands of refugees free bus rides to the border in order to press Greece and the European Union to further assist with refugee resettlement and the war.

Shortly after Turkey’s declaration of their open borders, the Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis suspended asylum applications in Greece and reportedly blocked 10,000 migrants from entering Greece in 24 hours. As we speak, Turkey is using migrants who are stuck in-between borders which Marios Kaminarides, a Political Correspondent for Capital TV expressed as, “human blackmail against EU values” and Greece is continuing to fight and terrorize innocent people searching for refuge.

Meanwhile, across the sea – the Corona Virus is dominating the international news. The virus is easier to talk about. The virus is easy to talk about, but if my grandma, a refugee from Chios, Greece who migrated to the United States during the German occupation of her island in the 1940s, lived today, she would quickly recognize where the real virus lies.

The United States, a country founded for refugees is hiding from its responsibilities. Set to accept only a few thousands of refugees, one of the most powerful nations in the world is turning a blind eye on the millions of people suffering a few miles away from their army bases, their economic trade-posts, their oil reserves. Even though most communities across the country are willing to accept refugees, The United States government, a government ruling over a country with a generally stable economy, and a history interwoven in diversity, has accepted its lowest number of refugees in forty years.

Now, for you few fearful skeptics, I could show data proving how the chance of an American being murdered by a refugee-terrorist is 1 in 4 billion per year, but this is not the point.

I could site statistic after statistic showing how refugees have already proven to exceptionally contribute to our Nation’s economic, societal, and infrastructural advancements, but that is not the point.

The point is that human life is not a currency. The point is that human life is not black-mail. The point is that human life is not to be ignored. And ignoring it is a sickness.

If we only knew the agony of the mother whose baby cried as dozens of people standing on the land they have been headed towards for months hovered over them, screamed at them in a foreign language, and pushed their raft back to sea. If we knew the pain of a young man’s parents learning the news that their son who left to support his sick father went another day without water or food as tear gas started to worsen his asthmatic condition. If we knew the last wish of the child who drowned somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea seconds after seeing a big ship pass by, before taking her last breath.

If we knew, we would realize we are sick.

The state of humanity needs us to speak for those who are headlined with two-minute stories, pitied for a moment and then forgotten. The state of humanity needs us to realize that participating in the systematic apathy towards our fellow humans is just as bad as fighting on the wrong side of the war. The state of humanity needs us to combat this virus of indifference with a spirit of solidarity and love for the joys every person brings. The state of humanity needs you.

Christina Florakis is a Greek American and recent graduate from Hamilton College.


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