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Guest Viewpoints

Pope Francis, Angelina Jolie and Susan Sarandon: When is Your Lesbos Vacation?

Works has dried up like the hot sun because nobody needs you. Despair sits on the couch in darkness because the electricity bill can’t be paid. Money is fleeting because your child needing food is more important. Sitting around talking with friends eases the pain of struggling and makes you forget the heaviness even if just for a moment. Your quality of life is no longer the same because you’ve given so much of yourself to others less fortunate.

This isn’t a refugee that just landed on a Greek island.

This is a citizen of that same Greek island who has been punished by the media’s sensationalism of the refugee crisis.

He or she is now without a job because it seems as if everyone in the world is afraid to visit their island.

“We supported the refugees for a long period of time, we fought for human values and now it’s not right to be punished by the rest of the world. It’s the right thing to do, it’s ethical thing to do to support the islands supporting the refugees,” says Marios Andriotis-Konstantios, the International Relations Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office in Lesbos.

Approximately 850,000 refugees passed through last year and yes, it was tough at times as Lesbos and the surrounding islands struggled to contain this onslaught of people desperately fleeing their home country in hopes of a better life but now with only around 5,000 refugees on the island and safely settled in the camps?

“It’s completely safe to visit Lesbos. We are ready for visitors. There is no reason why someone shouldn’t visit. Not only will they (tourists) have the chance to experience this beautiful island but they will have the chance to see what we have done for the international community and for the rest of the world (in rescuing the refugees).”

Andriotis-Konstantios goes on.

“We would like to be able to provide accommodations and support many more but even if we do, we cannot bear the burden of this humanitarian crisis on our own. We are just an island and we are just doing our part. So for visitors or tourists that want to make a difference, Lesbos is the ideal place to visit. We haven’t lost a bit of our beauty trying to administer a humanitarian crisis. We even showcase the beauty of the people and the true hospitality behind the local people, especially this year.”

But nobody is around this year to see the transformation and positive change. Nobody is around to see the economic reaction of the world’s shunning of Lesbos. Nobody is around to see almost half of the island’s population face the backlash of the tourism fallout. So the question bears repeating- Pope Francis, Angelina Jolie and Susan Sarandon, when is your Lesbos vacation coming up?

Thrasos Kalogridis, President of the Chambers Group for the Development of Greek Isles- E.O.A.E.N, is apprehensively thankful for the attention that the high profile celebrities brought to the refugee’s plights in order to get the attention of the international economy. But now with the camps set up and the process organized to send the refugees asylum paperwork though, what happens to the Greek citizen who cannot pay the bills because their job in tourism is no longer needed? There aren’t sensational pictures showing Greeks on these islands struggling to get by or not being able to pay their taxes. Greek families will silently scrape by even if just to have a coffee with friends to preserve their dignity and way of life. So without gripping photos showing the Greeks in crisis, the rest of the world goes about their daily lives only remembering the old pictures from the refugee crisis of last year.

Dr. William Frye, an Associate Professor at the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management in New York explains how the refugee crisis impacted the tourism industry on the Greek islands closest to Turkey.

“Even prior to the EU-Turkey agreement in late March 2016 on how to handle the refugee situation, tourism had fallen off as much as 80% to these Greek islands. What was once perceived as paradise in the Mediterranean for tourists has become various temporary internment camps (known as reception centres) for Middle Eastern “irregular” migrants who have been deemed “inadmissible” to enter Europe and are being detained on the islands awaiting their return to Turkey. But for the permanent residents of these islands who have come to rely on the economic inflow of tourism money to sustain themselves, they are finding little spending. The question then that needs to be addressed is who is holding who at bay here? Is the Greek government and the European Union detaining the inadmissible refugees or are the deleterious effects of the unwanted migration into the area keeping the much desired and sought after tourists and their Euros away?”

It’s more than just the European Union and Greek government at fault here according to island officials and residents. Kalogridis points out that the journalists who are using old photos of Lesbos to write about current events on Lesbos are deceptive and false. Andriotis-Konstantios agrees.

“When you write an article about refugees, you should present previous situation and what is happening right now. Even though a crisis can sell more copies and more papers, this is bad for the local economy, the local community. Many journalists should seriously consider what they’re doing presenting Lesbos as island in crisis.”

Perhaps the island isn’t in refugee crisis anymore but if the rest of the world doesn’t take action, it will soon be in tourism crisis. Will anyone care?

So once more, the question remains- Pope Francis, Angelina Jolie and Susan Sarandon, when is your Lesbos vacation?

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