One year ago the people of Lesvos were given an award: the John McCain Award for Leadership in Public Service; which was presented at the 10th Annual International Safety Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 17th. The people of Lesbos earned it “in recognition of their hospitality to the thousands of refugees and migrants who landed on the island,” said Cindy McCain, wife of the late Senator.
I doubt it’s an honor to be given that award, knowing who the late John S. McCain was!
I doubt that it is an honor when it is given to you in the framework of the Annual International Security Forum!
What I have no doubt about is the people of Greece: the people. The mayor of Lesbos at the time, Spyros Galinos, called the award “international recognition of the sacrifice, courage and real solidarity of the people of Lesbos, who shook the international community for the way they responded to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis of 2015”. And in addition to declaring that he would not come to receive it because it belonged to all the residents of Lesbos, he extended it to all the people of Greece for their attitude towards refugees.
The prize was collected by a group of scouts – always willing to help out: in this case not to embarrass the widow of McCain after the mayor’s refusal to come to the presentation.
NBK agrees with Mr. Galinos, as long as we ignore the thousands of disgusting Nazis and fascists who try to make life impossible for people on the move by harassing, insulting or assaulting them. We agree with the former mayor whenever we remember that, after 2015, Europe forced Greece not to be so kind to the refugees, and the government complied by creating and maintaining camps such as Moria in Lesbos, Vial in Chios, Vathi in Samos, and so on, where Human Rights and the Geneva Convention are empty words; and the bureaucracy around asylum claims is created to be so intricate and incomprehensible that it makes many people despair, desist from their request for help and decide to return to their countries to face death, or attempt suicide here in Greece.
Mr. Galinos was right: the response of the Greek people to the crisis, on both the islands and on the mainland, was exceptional. And it must be valued. Many Greeks received and welcomed all those who were fleeing, as they have done for at least the last 20 years. Even before the current “crisis”, Greece has served as a first entry point for people fleeing violence. This was evident, for example, during the war against the Taliban, during which Greece was an entry zone to Europe in the flight of civilians. The exodus from different countries and realities continued through these lands without posing problems, until Europe decided to close the borders with Greece and let them deal with it alone, in the middle of the deep economic crisis in which it found itself.
But whether it was welcoming them to the islands, creating the first support camps in their transit through the continent, or occupying abandoned buildings in Exarchia – the squats – and preparing them for these people, the people intervened instead of waiting for the crisis to be resolved by the big organizations. People saving people! A model of intervention different from the one we have always seen in the news. A model far removed from that of those large refugee camps where people are treated as if they were stupid and incapable, and where the money remains on the journey between those who give it and those who should receive it. A model far removed from that of stupidity (let me use this word to describe it) of UNHCR and other international bodies.
The Greek people intervened with a model in which these people were not separated from society but were included in it. This made it possible for them to remain as protagonists of their own stories, and not as objects of charitable attention (and study). It made it possible for them, while their transit between flight and the granting of asylum lasted, to maintain their capacities and even acquire others, instead of feeling stupid queuing up for everything while some white Europeans fix their day looking at them from above.
Ms. Cindy McCain added in announcing the award, that “in awarding this award to the people of Lesbos, we recognize the sacrifices that so many ordinary people have made to bring security, comfort and hope to refugees in desperate need. My sincere hope is that this award will also serve to inspire others, wherever they are in the world, to stand up for what is right”.
We, the NBK activists, join you in your request… and specify it – from our standpoint:
Europe schould not give a single euro for military solutions in the management of migratory flows; hopefully this crisis will be a separate point on how to intervene in the face of humanitarian disasters; hopefully, humanitarian aid and solidarity will no longer be criminalised!
…May history begin to write ‘The People’!
Let us accept diversity, let’s not confront it!
Let us demand other forms of intervention!
Let us call for the demilitarisation of borders, of aid… and of the world!
Only the People save the People!
No human being is illegal!
Open The Borders!