The EU is currently faced with an unprecedented influx of war affected refugees and migrants from Africa and Asia. Greece and Italy, as first entry points, find themselves in situations that they only experienced during the Second World War. Both these countries are worried about the social and economic impact of the current situation.
Not without delay and with dissenting voices, the EU is finalizing a plan to offer the protection and shelter to the refugees knocking at its doors, and rightfully so. After all, historically Europe has been bidding farewell to its emigrating children and welcoming new immigrants on its soil. Today, as Europe faces this massive influx of people and as thousands of lives are being lost at sea, it is time to act fast, to provide a chance of a better life for those in need and also to tackle the root causes of this tragedy.
But who are these people who desperately and at the risk of their lives, swim to the Aegean shores of Greece, literally half drowned, or arrive at the Sicilian coasts stacked like bulk merchandise in sinking ships?
I spent several days in makeshift temporary refugee camps in Athens, where hordes of Syrian, Afghani, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families, having just arrived from the islands, await to get a valuable train ticket North. Although I was prepared to face desperately angry faces or hopeless souls, I was met with hope, determination, discipline, kindness and numerous smiles. I met with families who look only ahead, having left the memories of war or terror behind, and are determinedly seeking a better life.
Most of them have been traveling for over a month, having taken planes, trains, busses, boats, walked and even swam... Some told me they had travelled on horseback, as well. So they have done it all, along with children of all ages, even newborn babies. Their main hope is to head to Germany, that is the most sought after destination, at least to those that I spoke with. They only carry with them a few bags but their hearts are filled with hope for a better future. I cannot stress enough how humbled I have felt when I realized how polite, appreciative and warm all these people are. I expected them to be frustrated and angry. Instead, they chose to be positive and hopeful. They even offered to share with me their warm tea and wet wipes, whatever they had at that moment.
Most local residents in the areas where these refugees camp out are very caring and bring them food, clothes and whatever else they can to make them more comfortable for the time being. Others, on the other hand, are angry and upset to see their neighborhood turn into a dirty camp site.
I hope that the images that I am sharing will stress that, beyond numbers and nationalistic egos, we should pause for a moment and look at these faces. They are human beings just like us who happened to be born in the "wrong" place at the "wrong time." They deserve a better future, just like everyone else, and I don't blame them for trying. On the contrary, I admire them very much.
The following photos were taken on Sep 11th, 12th and 14th at Plateia Viktorias (Victoria Square) in the centre of Athens.
You can view more of Margarita's work on her website: www.margaritamavromichalis.com