From HuffPost Greece

The Two Faces Of Greece's Response To The Refugee Crisis

Greeks have a mixed response to migrants and refugees.
Two photos taken on the same day in the Greek capital highlight the different ways Greeks have reacted to the refugee crisis.
Two photos taken on the same day in the Greek capital highlight the different ways Greeks have reacted to the refugee crisis. 
Read on HuffPost Greece

ATHENS, Greece -- The two pictures above were shot on the same day in the Greek capital. They could well carry the title "before and after." 

The photo on the left was taken by SOOC photographer Alexandros Michailidis in Victoria Square, where many migrants and refugees stop before continuing their journey across Europe toward a better life. It's a photo like countless others, depicting the despair of people who have lost everything.

The photo on the right was shot in the house of Athens local Ariadni Theodosiadou, in Sepolia neighborhood. The same family that was getting drenched in Victoria Square, Theodosiadou welcomed into her home, offering them food, a warm bath and, most importantly, compassion. 

Theodosiadou published the photos on her personal Facebook account. "[If you like them] you should take refugees home with you! Well, I actually did!” she replied to those who responded to her post. 

Ariadni Theodosiadou welcomed a refugee family into her home in Athens.
Ariadni Theodosiadou welcomed a refugee family into her home in Athens.

Theodosiadou told HuffPost Greece her aim was to set an example for others.  

“It all started when I was sitting at home one night when it was raining, when, watching the news, I realized that while I was cozy at home, right next to me there were people in very difficult conditions. I thought it was completely inhuman to sit around not being able to help. So, the next morning, I went to Victoria Square, got clothes from my house and some food from the supermarket. What I saw was overwhelming: children of all ages, mothers, all of them wet, in a terrible state ... I handed out the clothes and food and then a kid from Syria came over. He appeared to be living in Greece because he spoke Greek and he was probably there to help out, too. I asked him to tell these people that a family could come over to my place if they wanted to. It was completely spontaneous. I thought it was the least I could do in this situation.”

The boy came back with 30 to 40 people. 

“I thought at that moment that maybe my first priority should be the children," Theodosiadou explained. "So I took this family I saw, a mother with a 21-year-old son and a daughter of around 20, who had two daughters herself, one 6 months and the other about 7 years old.”

At Theodosiadou's home, no one communicated with words -- her guests didn't speak English and she didn't speak their language. She couldn't ask about them, about their story, what had forced them to embark on such a harsh journey, how such a young woman had a 7-year-old child, what they had been through and where they were going.

“We were communicating with gestures but our understanding was perfect. When they started feeling more comfortable, something magic came out of this, ” Theodosiadou said. 

She doesn't even know where they came from.

“I didn't ask and I didn't care. Asking would have been racist and pointless," Theodosiadou said. "If you want to offer help you don't ask for an ID. I saw babies who were wet, I am not going to ask where they are from, I will try to protect them.”

I saw babies who were wet, I am not going to ask where they are from, I will try to protect them.

Theodosiadou said her spontaneous action made her feel good. "I managed to put a smile on the faces of people who had been through so much. The kids didn't stop laughing.” 

“The reason I made it public was because I thought that more people should do the same," Theodosiadou added. "What came to me spontaneously, others could also do. Just one person won't change anything. But if others did it too, there would be no kids staying on the street."

She said she was never worried about her safety. "What's to fear when dealing with mothers and babies?" Theodosiadou said. "I just tried to maintain rules of safety and hygiene.”

Ariadni Theodosiadou welcomed a refugee family into her home in Athens.
Ariadni Theodosiadou welcomed a refugee family into her home in Athens.

After posting her photos to Facebook, Theodosiadou got dozens of responses. Some people were touched and asked her how they could help and where they could take stuff. “It gave me enormous joy. I thought this country has hope,” she said. 

Others asked her why she didn't help Greeks in need. “Us Greeks should give a good example for those in need, in the tradition of ancient Greek hospitality," she told them. "For Greeks who don't have food to eat, for refugees who don't have shelter, for stray animals tortured on the street. Let's not always judge and let's find the compassion within. Only in this way can this country move forward. With love.”

Would she do it again?

“Of course. In fact, I have.”

Let's not always judge and let's find the compassion within. Only in this way can this country move forward. With love.

 

Theodosiadou isn't the only one opening up her home to refugees. Alkis Paspatis from the island of Lesbos also welcomed people in need into his home. And, like Theodosiadou, he posted pictures on Facebook.

Although volunteers and organizations have stepped up to offer food and basic items in the past few months, these cases are few and far between. Stereotypes describing the people in Victoria Square as  “illegal migrants” who will “steal from us” remain deeply held beliefs. 

Greek journalist and activist Yannis Androulidakis described a recent example of this on Facebook:

Last Saturday, when we were getting back home around 1 a.m., it was pouring with so much rain, you couldn't see anything. Fifty refugees were sqeezed under the tiny tent of the local fruit shop in our neighborhood, among them many mothers with babies in their arms. The door of our house opened, and with one gesture the refugees got in. Fifty people on the stairs, from the front door up to the mezzanine. Outside our door, a family with kids -- the little girl had a fever. We gave them some medicine and bananas, made them some toast and gave them some blankets and pillows. Around 2:30 a.m. we heard a police car siren. A young guy, not older than 30, who lived on the fourth floor, had called the police to kick them out. We were surprised to hear the policemen asking him to show some understanding and let them spend the night at the entrance, saying, 'They are mothers with children, they are not going to steal from you.' The man insisted saying that 'it wasn't his problem.' We went down, we had a fight with him. He left when the refugees left ... I wonder if the guy that called the police realized that society isn't in danger from that woman but from people like him. 

Androulidakis said that when the story at Victoria Square is over, he will write about all the people he came across who "did so much to help out, against all odds, against their neighbors' prejudice and hatred."

"I would like to write about that woman from Afghanistan who caressed her baby daughter who had a fever in the rain and when the morning came she left us the pillows and blankets we had given her, intact and folded," Androulidakis said.

On Tuesday, Greek authorities began transporting about 1,000 migrants and refugees camping in Victoria Square, using public busses, and took them to a sheltered gymnasium in the area of Galatsi, in the center of Athens -- Minister of Migration Giannis Mouzalas oversaw the operation. The group has been told that they can stay there for as long as they need to. Their transfer took place amid demonstrations by local residents opposed to the "outsiders" being in their area. Those who support the plight of the migrants and refugees also turned out.

The two faces of Greek society seem to spell love and hate simultaneously. However, one observation from Androulidakis offers some hope: “These past few days have confirmed that our world is full of wonderful people who, in the end, will change it.”     

This story was originally published on HuffPost Greece and translated into English. It has been edited for clarity and context. Danae Leivada contributed to this report.

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