Political agendas in the refugee response in Greece; the case of Israeli and Jewish organisations

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The state of Israel is notorious for not giving asylum to non-Jewish refugees arriving in the country. At the same time, its policies towards Palestinians, closer to home, are those of dispossession. Opposition from civil society to such policies inside Israel is very active. In the past two years, a number of Israeli organisations have been active in Greece in the refugee response. Interestingly, they are not the ones you would expect to be advocating on behalf of asylum seekers or Palestinians back in Israel, but rather organisations and individuals, who are either part of the establishment or rogue –often religious- individuals to the right of any Israeli government.

There are a number of well-established Israeli grassroots movements and organizations that advocate for solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. From ex-IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers (Break the Silence), to advocacy against demolitions of Palestinian homes (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) to settlement watch (Peace Now) to medical ethics (Physicians for Human Rights) to co-existence groups (Seeds of Peace), Israeli civil society is quite vibrant and challenging to the status quo of their country.

One would think that medical, advocacy organisations or those struggling to bridge Arab-Israeli differences, would be present in Greece, but they are not. Jewish values per se aren’t the issue. After all, the religious Jewish precept ‘whoever saves a life saves the whole world’, is in accordance with the principle of humanity. What is problematic is the ethnic Jewish focus of many of these organisations, either in their boards or previous work and more importantly, positions in relation to the Middle East. A close analysis of the organisations and individuals in Greece reveals that, some of them at least, have political agendas related to the Middle East situation and do not provide independent assistance according to humanitarian principles[1].

Not many Eritrean refugees arrive on Greek shores and so I was surprised to hear the story of one that recently arrived in Lesvos from Turkey, speaking fluent Hebrew. I inquired about the route he took. He had sought asylum in Israel where many Eritreans arrive through Sinai but very few are accepted as refugees, even after drawn out procedures lasting often a decade. Israel had given him a large sum of money to make his way back to his country of origin and deported him to Uganda. Instead of returning to Eritrea though, he paid smugglers again to get out by going to Turkey (direct Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, e-visa issued). He arrived in Lesvos where he sought asylum, because if he went back to Eritrea he would be conscripted to the army and if he tried to stay in a neighbouring country, he would be discriminated against. A few weeks later, this interesting article about Israel’s policies of return under secret deals came out confirming many details of the story of the asylum seeker in Lesvos.

In mid-January 2017 a group representing Israeli and Jewish organisations (Amaliah, iAID), led by Rabbi Shu Eliovson, distributed at the PIKPA camp for vulnerable refugees in Lesvos aid collected from donations in Israel. Clearly the information provided in advance to PIKPA about the nature of the organisations was scant.

Amaliah (www.amaliah.com), is a New York based organization, whose founder and CEO, Moti Kahana, is known for his rogue methods to rescue Jewish relics from Yemen and the last Jewish family in Aleppo. More importantly, he advocates through Amaliah -alleging support from the Israeli Defense Forces- to create a ‘safe zone’ in the south of Syria, bordering Israel.

Member of the team that handed over the donations to PIKPA was Shachar Zahavi, former IsraAID director and currently setting up a new initiative, called iAID. The only other activity of iAID publicly known (there is no website for the organization), is a distribution of solar lamps in a Yazidi camp in northern Iraq.

Rabbi Shu Eliovson, also known as ‘the Grateful Dead rabbi’ is the founder of Jam Shalom, an organization that pioneers Judaism with a modern face, through music concerts, based out of Kfar Maimon in southern Israel. Kfar Maimon was established in 1959 close to the Gazan border and is better known for the 2005 standoff between opponents to the Gaza disengagement plan (dismantling settlements in Gaza) and the Israeli police and army. For anyone familiar with the politics of the region, those settlers represent the most extreme right in Israeli politics, a major obstacle to any solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and racist positions towards all non-Jews.

Let us now turn to some of the larger Israeli or Jewish NGOs active in Greek response.

Israid (http://www.israaid.co.il/): One of the largest Israeli NGOs, which though proud of having Israeli Arabs on the ground in Greece, does not feature a single Arab on its  board of directors, the team or the advisory board. Funding comes mainly from international Jewish organisations and the ministry of foreign affairs of Israel. Israid is providing health assistance (including mental health) to Arabic-speaking refugees and has been present on the beaches of Lesvos (where refugees first arrive and are at their most vulnerable) since the autumn of 2015. Many Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi refugees were taken by surprise to be met on arrival in Greece by an organization that brands the Israeli flag on its logo. The Greek prime minister met with and praised Israid during his visit to Israel in November 2015.

Natan (http://www.natan-iha.org/our-board/): The organization is a partner in a community centre for refugees in Lesvos (One Happy family). Just like Israid, Natan’s board is fully Jewish. Its chairperson worked for twenty years in the office of the Israeli prime minister, although the website doesn’t state in what position. The organization’s partners include the Multi-Faith Alliance for Syrian Refugees whose partners in turn include the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress. Other partners are American Jewish and Evangelical Christian (often referred to as ‘Christian Zionists’). There is no information on the website regarding sources of funding, but it’s safe to say that partners are also donours.

HIAS (www.hias.org): An American Jewish organization (its initials stand for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society but the full name is rarely used, even on the website) guided, as mentioned in their website, by Jewish values, established in 1881 to rescue Jews from the pogroms of Eastern Europe and continued facilitating resettlement of Jews fleeing wars and hotspots in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Ethiopia until the 1990s, to the USA and Israel. It was only in the 2000s that HIAS expanded its work to non-Jewish refugee resettlement in the USA and in 2002 to include protection in countries of first refuge. In Greece they provide legal assistance.

Advocates Abroad (advocatesabroad.org): An organization that consists of essentially one individual, Ariel Ricker, without a support structure, established in Greece after the EU-Turkey deal, initially presented as associated with HIAS. While the main focus is legal assistance, the organisation also purports to be advocating on behalf of refugees in public medical facilities and on issues of safety (because of its founder ‘expertise’ from the IDF, although unclear whether she has served).

The special case of the Yazidis: The Yazidi community’s homeland and sacred site of Sinjar mountain in Iraq, has international strategic value because of the connection of Mosul (and its oil) towards the west and the Mediterranean sea. It is the only community that was granted by the Greek government its own camp in Petra Olympou, managed by CYCI. The justification for the special arrangements for Yazidis in Petra was that they are survivors of massacres and need to be with their community. Interestingly, smaller numbers of Yazidis are present with other communities in camps and alternative accommodation in Lesvos, Athens and other locations and don’t face any issues. Looking into CYCI, one realizes that the organization consists of its Canadian Jewish founder, Steve Maman and one volunteer. The organisation was initially questioned by some Yazidi activists but Israel is generally seen as an ally of the Yazidis in the Iraq conflict.

From the above short analysis it becomes clearer that there are ethical questions. How reliable can Israel be when it promises, through NGOs, to resettle Syrians, to assist Yazidis, when it has a history of dispossession of Palestinians in its midst, for the past 69 years? Or, when the state of Israel mistreats and deports asylum seekers under shady agreements with African governments willing to oblige? To what extent can we consider organisations that support based on religion or ethnic background to act independently? Officially Israel has declared it is neutral in the war in Syria. In reality, it has bombarded areas close to the Syria-Israel border, the Golan Heights (occupied by Israel since the 1967 war) and Damascus airport.

Why is the Greek government giving a free hand for such organisations to operate inside Greece (energy cooperation between the two countries aside)? Why aren’t the organizations operational in Israel and the West Bank bringing closer together the two sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not among the ones working in Greece? Rather, the organisations active in Greece represent the long arm of the deep state of Israel or extremes that Israel itself officially distances itself from. Last, but not least, why bring the implications of the Middle East conflicts to Greece?

[1] A definition of the principle of independence, guiding humanitarian action: ‘Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.’ Source: https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OOM-humanitarianprinciples_eng_June12.pdf

Humanitarian response in Greece: A system not fit for purpose (parts of this piece were edited and published in irinnews.org and ekathimerini.gr in December 2016)

IMG_1455 (20)‘The conditions in the camp are better than Idomeni’, Mohamed, a young father of two from Aleppo, told me recently in Oraiokastro camp near Thessaloniki, ‘but eight months in a tent are too long’. Not knowing how long they will have to spend in temporary shelters, often in abandoned warehouses and factories is what makes refugees’ days and nights long, especially as the cold begins to bite.

Given the amount of funds the European Union has poured into Greece, why aren’t the living conditions better? ‘The conditions are not the result of a funding gap’, says UNHCR in Athens. Funding from the EU for the refugee response in Greece makes for the bulk of the resources. Some individual member states also contribute to humanitarian organisations.

DG for Migration and Home has earmarked €509 million for Greece under the national programmes for 2014-2010, forming part of long term support from the EU Commission to improve common European responses in asylum and migration processes. So far, €70 million from this funding channel has been made available.

DG Home through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) has also allocated since January 2015, €178 million towards Government of Greece (GoG) entities and €175 million to international organisations (UNHCR, IOM) and EASO (European Asylum Support Office) as emergency funding to respond to the unprecedented refugee crisis.

DG for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) has committed €700 over the period 2016-2018 period and allocated through the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) a total of €198 million to UNCHR, UNICEF, IOM, IFRC and 10 NGOs since April 2016. Following ECHO’s regulations, these funds are disbursed quickly and not through government, in this case to complement DG Home funds to the GoG. The second tranche (€115 million), announced in September 2016, will cover winterisation activities, education and child protection. It was committed before monitoring of the work done with the first allocation had been possible, raising suspicions that it was another politically driven decision.

In summary, the widely reported figure of €1 billion of EU assistance to Greece is through different channels, €248 million to the GoG and €373 million to humanitarian actors.

In addition to the funding, Civil Protection has provided to the GoG 185,000 items of in-kind emergency assistance donated by the member states (tents, beds, sleeping bags, blankets, hygiene kits, power generators, water pumps, fire-fighting equipment).

This is the first time ECHO is funding operations in a EU member state. This presents political complications, as the recipient country is part of the decision making process, even if the state is not a direct partner. On the ground, this means that criticism of government or EU policies responsible for the stranded refugees in the country by ECHO partners, presents a set of challenges. The absurdity of the response in Greece is showcased by the anecdote that NGOs have requested ECHO funding in order to conduct advocacy against EU policies. On the other hand MSF decided not to receive any EU or member state funding after the EU-Turkey statement to avoid precisely this type of dilemmas.

Delaying factors

The sector that is covered to a larger extent through DG ECHO is shelter. No two camps, municipalities or islands are the same in terms of living conditions. A lot of improvements are noted in the mainland since the closure of Idomeni and Pireaus makeshift camps, but a lot remains to be done and given the funding available it should be done quicker. In order to quickly respond, abandoned factories and army camps have been used, levelling, landscaping and food distribution were delegated to the army. The army was supposed to hand over soon after setting up those camps in March-April but it is still not clear who they should hand over to. Food is more appropriate to be cooked by the refugees themselves after all those months, through cash assistance and communal or family kitchens, provided fire safety is in place. This is one of ECHO’s priorities for 2017.

The lack of strategic longer–term planning by the government, including the final list of sites is what is impeding timely preparations for winter’, one of ECHO’s partners told me. ‘If we had clarity on what is expected of us for the rest of the year, we could better assist. As it is now, we just put bandaids on the gaps, like repair showers, put heating where possible, but cannot do major improvements in shelter, which are needed for the winter’. This is echoed in a recent joint policy brief issued by twelve NGOs active in Greece. The GoG position is that it has done planning since April for the rest of the year with a planning figure of 100,000 stranded in the country and provided in August the list of camps that will remain in the winter. There are NGO funds available for camp construction but need the approval of the GoG to go ahead and this is not forthcoming.

Complications in acquiring sites and procurement procedures are causing delays. Inter-ministerial decisions and agreements are needed for site allocation, whether land or buildings to be used (owner of the land or building whether public or private, municipality for water and sewerage, ministry of health, forestry authority, archaeological authority to inspect when digging is needed, to name just a few). This becomes even more complicated when food is planned to be cooked on site with further checks required.

‘Initially we were of the opinion that guesthouses or apartments might be more appropriate for this response, but we stand ready to support, through our humanitarian partners, what the Greek government considers a faster option, that is winterised camps’, said Yorgos Kapranis, representative of the ESI in Athens. Multiple camps dispersed around the country –in order not to create ghettos- require logistics and transportation. Apartments or guesthouses are more appropriate but it is time consuming to find the numbers required. UNHCR has a commitment of 20,000 places funded with €80 million from the EU a year ago, for relocation candidates. So far 17,000 places have been found, including for vulnerable families and individuals.

NGOs and private foundations (with their own funding) in coordination with the authorities have identified and assessed closed buildings and several are now rented and functioning as guesthouses, for unaccompanied minors or vulnerable families and individuals in Athens and Thessaloniki. The numbers of beneficiaries though are still quite low. The lack of coordination and appropriate services, leave gaps which are often filled by volunteer and solidarity groups, often on the margins of the law (eg squats). Their interventions is often life-saving but they may also lack expertise in the humanitarian field. They are capable to fundraise quickly online but are not accountable in a meaningful way and are sometimes at odds with local populations.

Another delaying factor is procurement process disagreements between the GoG and humanitarian partners. Bank capital controls in place since July 2015 delay purchases and act as impediment for local procurement while importing goods is another lengthy administrative process.

Despite its interest in having an overview and control of the response to avoid gaps and overlaps, recognising its responsibility as the lead, the GoG doesn’t possess the human resources needed and shows slow reflex when offers for secondments are made. The legal framework and existing apparatus are not appropriate to register, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the multitude of actors and their work in the refugee response. There is currently a recruitment drive for the ministry of migration. With the austerity measures in place, increasing public employees is difficult and short term only, through the EU funding. This leads to lack of continuity.

The model of implementing partners adds layers of administrative costs. There are too many coordinators and donors and too few hands on deck. Local NGOs are getting overwhelmed by the demand for partnerships, many pushed to expand at an unsustainable rate.

Given the nature of the assistance is increasingly longer term, some NGOs I have discussed with recognise there should be an exit strategy and move to development funding (which goes through governments), to assist not only refugees/migrants but also Greeks under the poverty line due to the economic crisis and successful asylum seekers who fall through the cracks. Other NGOs however are reportedly getting together to advocate for their longer-term remaining in Greece to assist in a ‘humanitarian’ response.

So, what would improve the response?

At this point in time, we need to separate advocacy from protection and response. Daily public reminders to the GoG of their responsibilities and the conditions in camp A or B, or the situation of UASC have lost their value. Humanitarian organisations need to respond in collaboration with the government, offer their expertise. The country is not in conflict, where humanitarian principles impede closeness to the state. The number of refugees is manageable (out of a total of 62,000 roughly 20,000 are already in decent out-of-camp sites). The only real obstacle is the lack of trust between the GoG and humanitarian partners.

The GoG would like to have uniformity of services across camps and NGOs responsible for specific camps rather than sectors. One solution may be for UNHCR to offer to second camp managers and build local capacity over a period of time. Registration should be done in accommodation sites to have a clear picture of who remains and what their needs are. The government should be part of the planning for the 2017 RRMRP (Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan) and should clearly articulate its needs for UN/NGO support.

Advocacy is needed at the Brussels level to influence EU policies that are keeping people hostage in Greece as well as member state capitals that should show more solidarity towards refugees and migrants and support for Greece. The country, because of an accident of geography, is a frontline state at one of the most difficult economic times in its post-war history. The EU is happy Greece is isolated in its southeast corner. As long as the refugees don’t show up at ‘the heart of Europe’, Greece remains its Nauru so let’s at least ensure humane conditions for refugees that, unlike Nauru, do not put us to shame as European citizens.

ANNEX: Funding by source and receiving entity 

A. SOURCE of funding: AMIF AND ISF (emergency funding)

source of information: Managing the Refugee Crisis, EU Financial Support to Greece, 5 October 2016  

 

Government entity Dates Amount
Ministry of Defence March and July 2016 88.8 mil
Ministry of Health December 2015 and July 2016 27.48 mil
First Reception Service June, October 2015 and March 2016 8.61 mil
Asylum Service January 2015 1.18 mil
Ministry of the Interior May and July 2016 20.79 mil
Hellenic Coast Guard June and October 2015 6.67 mil
General Secretariat for Coordination October 2015 5.99 mil
Ministry of Infrastructure February 2016 12.76 mil
Hellenic Police October and November 2015 5,58

Total 177,86 mil

Organisation Dates Amount
UNHCR July, Aug 2015 and May 2016 114.13 mil
IOM Dec 2015, Feb and May 2016 34.5 mil
EASO Feb and May 2016 26.12 mil

Total 174,75 mil

B. SOURCE of funding: ESI/ECHO (700 million to be made available in total for 2016-2018 to all member states)

source of information: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/greece_en.pdf

First round: April 2016

Organization Amount
UNHCR 25 mil
IFRC 15 mil
DRC 8 mil
IRC 10 mil
Save the Children 7 mil
OXFAM 6 mil
ASB 5 mil
MDM 7 mil

Total 83 mil

Second round: October 2016

UNHCR
ASB
Care Germany
DRC
IOM
IRC
MDM
Mercycorps
NRC
OXFAM
Save the Children
Terre des Hommes

Total 115 mil

After the fire in Moria, some random thoughts (posted on Facebook on 20 September 2016).

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The police in the camp evacuated everyone in time and ensured no lives were lost, especially those in

detention in Section B. The unaccompanied minors were evacuated from the afternoon to be out of harm’s way. Eventually were accommodated in PIKPA. They will soon be transferred to the mainland. The fire was put out by the fire brigades. The police also stopped the refugees from going through the village towards the city, thus avoiding a confrontation.

Two ambulances and a mobile clinic were outside the camp to give first aid and transport people to the hospital (30 people). Around 20 people had to make statements to the police on the fire and eight are detained. A number of volunteer groups were present that night to provide food, water and psychological support. In the end two sections of the camp were burnt and it is calculated around 1,000 people have lost their shelters. The government is looking at renting a ferry to shelter about that number of people for a month or two.

On Monday morning (before the fire) there was a demonstration of the locals from Moria village demanding the decongestion of the camp and commitment from the authorities that another camp will not be built in their area. The anger was directed at the central authorities and the mayor. In the demonstration of about 300 people, there were some local Golden Dawn supporters. Calling everyone who expressed concern about the residents, a ‘fascist’ just like that, for a year, is now yielding results: fascists are indeed infiltrating local groups.

According to the official statement of the fire brigades, during Monday, in three fires, 16 acres of olive trees and dry bush, 50 tents and RHUs, three containers, cloths and rubbish were burnt. Four students were beaten by Golden Dawn during the demonstration and one hospitalised and a policeman was injured by refugees during the riots in Moria and hospitalised. Recently -and unrelated- national staff in NGOs have been sacked due to downsizing in Lesvos. No posts in facebook about any of this. Seems the humanity of volunteers does not extend that far. It does not consider the financial situation of most locals, indeed most Greeks.

There have been statements from Coexistence (local NGO) and the Coordinating Body of Associations of Lesvos, consisting of the professionals (lawyers, doctors, tourism etc) both expressing concern over the dangerous situation developing on the island and asking for the decongestion of the hotspot and move of refugees to the mainland.

Lately it seems these volunteer facebook groups have become a fundraising platform. This time, things are out of control. Before the fire was out, people were asking for funding without knowing what the extent of the damage was, what the needs would be and what gaps would be left by government and large organisations. It also became a platform for self promotion through the media who are not present on the ground.

Recently also, I note the administrators are trying to silence those who do not play along. They control who can talk and who not. There is frequent shutting down opinions which do not pat volunteers on the back and try to explain complexities not often understood. Are we now going to have to explain ourselves as Greeks, as we do for the economic crisis? The same EU-imposed wrong solutions, same mistrust, same colonial attitude? Please do not tell me how much you appreciate what Greek people are doing and how many friends you have here. I am not interested.

Let’s try to focus on the positives of this tense situation, which is that lives were saved and let’s isolate the extreme voices. But this includes many among international volunteers.

 

In Sykamia, (first published on facebook on 11 October 2015)

The weather on 3 October was beautiful in Lesvos. Sunshine and barely any wind, no waves. As a result many refugees crossed from Turkey. We witnessed 16 dinghies arrive between three and five in the afternoon at the fishing port of Sikamia, a village of 200 people. Stratis Myrivilis who wrote so eloquently about the horror of war, came from this village, now receiving war refugees.

An average of 45 people per boat (without counting babies) means around 700 adults plus around 20 babies arrived in that two hour slot. The beach of Sikamia is not really a beach. It’s a pebble stone shore, quite difficult to walk on, particularly when you walk out of an over crowded rubber boat, with wet shoes, dizzy from the crossing, unfamiliar with the sea as many refugees are and bearing all the previous trauma of war and violence of the smugglers.

There was the Afghan woman with her one month old baby, wrapped in a huge blanket and tied with a rope to keep him in position and warm. Of course if the boat sank, the baby would quickly become so heavy with the blanket that he would go down. But all is well that ends well and the baby was safe and sound and quiet surrounded by girl volunteers admiring and asking the mother questions she couldn’t answer, as she spoke no English.

A little girl with her brother came out of the boat crying in shock. I helped them take off their wet jackets, relax them and feel more comfortable while their parents came on shore.

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A group of 7-8 artists from Damascus in their 20s, a singer, a musician, an actor, a sound technician… dressed like they were from Athens, boys with long hair, girls of many colours. They opened a small bottle of whisky and drank to life, laughing, hugging that they were finally safe. Then they sat and looked at the other side where they had come from. I wondered who is left behind in Syria.

At some point one of the boats veered off the usual track. We went to the church (Panagia Gorgona) on top of the rock that separates the beach from the port and directed the boats to go towards the beach where there is more space to get down. There were two boats full of young Iraqi and Syrian men. Two of them jumped to the water to swim the last few metres to Greece but were not the best of swimmers. The Spanish rescuers swam to help them. Another shouted from the boat ‘behabak’ (‘I love you’) while others were thanking God for the end of the trip.

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Once a first boat entered the port, three others followed within a few minutes. It looked like a flotilla. We counted up to four with our bare eyes. A drone was flying above filming the arrivals. A Syrian handicapped boy of 12-13 with limited mobility was carried on shore by a local man and taken to a corner where he could sit and wait for his parents to come out. The boy was smiling happily to be taken in with love, although he could hardly speak. I smiled back in tears.

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Clearly the Syrians and Iraqis were the best captains for the boats. The smugglers on the Turkish side (some of them Syrian, Afghan, even Pakistani) show one of the people onboard how to steer the boat and then leave them alone to do it all the way to Lesvos. The Syrians are more exposed to the sea and less afraid so more relaxed and as a result able to make the trip shorter and less arduous. The Afghans arrive exhausted and shivering. There was a woman with her two daughters, barely able to take off her life jacket from the shock.

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A Syrian man with a heart condition collapsed the moment he stepped on dry land. Volunteer doctors took care of him until he was strong enough to get up and walk a few metres to the village. A young man had an injured leg from the weight of others sitting on it in the boat. Many people are injured in the boats due to the numbers loaded (smugglers throw away bags to put more people and threaten with weapons if someone complains). Others are injured when they come out of the boat, twisting ankles and scratching knees or stepping on sea urchins on the rocks. Afghans often tell bizarre stories, which I think are figments of their imagination due to their unfamiliarity with the sea: bitten by sea snakes, feet burning in the sea water. Many refugees with chronic disease omit taking their medication while traveling and hiding in the forests in Turkey before crossing (as the smugglers make them do – often robbing them in the process). They arrive in clinics on the island trying to remember the name of their medication in Syria or Iraq, explaining their condition as best they can.

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We took a Kurdish family from Damascus with us in the car as there were hundreds waiting for the buses to Mytiline. They had spent two years in Turkey but decided to leave now because of the imminent elections, afraid there would be a crackdown on all Kurds, whether from Turkey or Syria. I thought of them yesterday with the huge explosion at the peace march in Ankara.

Myths about refugees arriving in Greece (shortened version published on 13 October 2015 by irinnews.org under the title ‘Greek aid worker busts seven refugee myths’)

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Myth #1

Refugees are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in up to 92% (UNHCR, 2 October 2015).

While most Arab refugees and migrants come from Syria and Iraq, there are among them many Palestinians (from Syria in their majority), Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Yemenis. Knowing that Syrians are treated with priority, most Arab speakers try to pass for Syrians, including many Iraqis. Also, some Iranians try to pass for Afghans when they arrive. They may pass the initial registration that takes place on the Greek islands but obviously once they reach the countries of Northern Europe where they want to stay and work, they will go through a more thorough examination and some will be returned, without huge discrepancies in the statistics.

Myth #2

All Syrians are running away from the government regime OR all Syrians are running away from ISIS.

In fact they are running away from both, depending on the windows of opportunity to escape during a lull in the fighting. Some Syrians leave through Turkey, others through Lebanon (ferry or flight to Turkey), others through Jordan (flight to Turkey).

The same applies to Iraqis. Many come from Baghdad (direct flight to Istanbul and then to the coast to cross to Greece) and many left Mosul (either before its fall or after, through Raqqa in Syria, as recently as a few days before arriving in Greece) and crossed on foot to Turkey, gradually making their way to the coast.

Myth #3

Those single men leaving Syria are escaping the army draft.

While there are young men for whom the final straw was the draft, this is not the only reason they left. Indeed one has to ask what is the point of this war and whether we can call young men who don’t see a point in fighting, ‘cowards’. Among the young Syrian refugees there are many students who want to complete their studies in Europe because in Syria it is no longer possible. There are many young and not so young professionals (doctors, engineers) who tried to fight it out for the five years of the war but in the end could no longer survive in their or neighbouring countries. There are sports people, whether champions or trainers. There are also many artists who hope for more possibilities to practice their art in Europe, whether it is music or painting or other modern forms.

Myth #4

If humanitarian assistance in the neighbouring to Syria countries is increased –or returns to last year’s levels- the refugee flows will stop. This is incorrect for several reasons.

Refugees in the neighbouring countries receiving assistance are the poorest. They do not have the cash to fund the journey to Europe. Secondly, talking with the refugees when they arrive, most tell us they left Syria less a month ago, after selling everything they have, or getting a money transfer from a relative abroad. There are those that left Syria some time back but were not receiving assistance in the neighbouring countries. The argument that humanitarian assistance will keep Syrians in the region (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan) is either misguided or –more likely- a cynical political argument for the European countries of the North to wash their hands of the issue and humanitarian organisations to increase their funding in the Middle East. The truth is that most Syrian refugees are middle class who had middle class jobs before the war and what is most significant about them is not that they have the latest model of mobile phone or that they take selfies when they reach the Greek shores but that they have the physical resilience to endure the hardship that they go through to get to their destination, maintaining their polite manners, sense of humour and culture through song and poetry.

Myth #5

Afghans who make up the second group arriving in Greece come from the war zones of Afghanistan.

In fact, the vast majority are Hazara and have been in Iran as refugees for many years or were born there. They are discriminated against in Iran for being refugees and this is the reason they are leaving en masse. It is unclear how their status will be evaluated once they reach their destination and whether their vulnerability in Iran will be recognized, given that it is a safe country, not at war, taking into account that they were refugees in that country already.

Myth #6

The arrivals of refugees in Greece will increase the appeal of the neo-nazi party of Golden Dawn.

The areas most affected by the flows are the islands of the East Aegean, the port of Pireaus, parts of Athens and the border with FYROM at Idomeni. Refugees were at first received with some caution and questions were asked about the quality of their phones (‘too good for refugees’), the reasons for escaping from a war in their own country (‘why didn’t they stay and fight’) as well as a fear that jihadists might be coming with them. However, after months and thousands of arrivals, without any major incident (just some scuffles due to overcrowdedness and lack of reception capacity), the hosting communities are quite comfortable. Golden Dawn increased its parliamentary representation by one member in the elections of 20 September but this can be attributed to the disappointment with other parties on issues unrelated to the refugee crisis.

Myth #7

The economic impact on the islands has been only negative OR only positive.

There have been both. It is a fact that in Kos tourists complained about seeing refugees arriving at the beach where they were sunbathing. It is also a fact that a number of cruises to Lesvos were cancelled this summer and that the town of Mytiline suffered when thousands of refugees were sleeping in the rough without adequate toilets. On the other hand, once the locals felt accustomed to the flow of people, the hotels and taxis opened up to them, some shops, restaurants and coffee shops increased their business, small entrepreneurs stocked on tents, mats, sleeping bags and provided phone charging facilities and some abused the situation over charging for services and goods. The balance sheet of the impact on the economy on islands such as Lesvos, Kos, Leros, Chios, Samos, remains to be completed.

Myth #8

Turkey has been a generous host to Syrian refugees while concerned with its own security and the Kurdish issue.

There is enough evidence to conclude that the Turkish state is turning a blind eye to the people trafficking happening on its soil. With Turkish Airlines connecting to more destinations than any other airline in the world (Istanbul has direct and affordable flights to, among others, Amman, Baghdad, Basra, Beirut, Erbil, Najaf, Suleimaniah), no visa requirement for Syrian nationals an a simple e-visa to enter the country for Iraqi nationals, the borders all but open in the south east with Syria and Iraq –including for Kurds, who reach Greece without any impediments-, one easily concludes that there is state facilitation.

Myth #9

Migrants stranded in Greece are increasing.

While a percentage of new arrivals remain in Greece because of lack of funds to continue the journey, many others who have been in the country illegally for several years are grabbing the opportunity to leave now that the borders are relatively flexible, thus escaping the economic crisis and unemployment.

Myth #10

Foreign volunteers are doing the bulk of the work receiving new arrivals.

A number of volunteers have come to Greece to combine a holiday and do something useful, joining some foreigners already residents on the islands. This has been promoted by the English-speaking media, giving the impression that the gaps in government assistance and initial slowness in NGO response was covered only by foreign volunteers. The truth is that Greek volunteers or just local citizens in the islands have been and continue to be the first responders, often coordinated but usually ad hoc. This is according to a Greek saying, “Do the right thing and throw it to the sea”, which means do not brag about it. The voice of the fishermen for example is never heard in the media. And yet they often come across dinghies with stalled engines or flooding and rescue people or bring the coat guards to do it. Local volunteers in Lesvos have been organized since 2012.

Myth #11

Germany is the most generous country in Europe and will accept 800,000 refugees.

Germany fares better than other countries who have declared they will only accept Christian refugees, or no refugees at all. However, the number of 800,000 is not based on generosity, but rather a calculation of what are the German economy’s needs for the coming years (http://fortune.com/2015/09/08/germany-migrant-crisis/). On the other hand, small countries like Greece, FYROM, Serbia, are not given credit for adequately receiving the flow of people not commensurate to their population and economic situation and are often blamed for not controlling their borders. Just to note here, that no European country has sea borders as extensive as Greece in close proximity to the coast of departure. Italy’s case is very different: Lampedusa is 290 miles from the coast of Libya and has a better economy than Greece. Lesvos on the other hand is eight miles from the Turkish coast.