Refugees: A Modern Odyssey Without an End?

Near the shores where Homer's Odysseus was once washed up during his 20-year journey to reach his home, Ithaca, and his family, one witnesses not the white sails of victory, but an array of overloaded rubber rafts gradually creeping in, filled with colorful vests, which tightly hold the souls and the hopes of the refugees who look forward to a new, safer future in Europe. Indeed, at first sight, the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean -- part of a truly untouched landscape -- attracting tourists from around the globe, very much resemble the paradise-like Europe they had dreamt of.

But as the overcrowded and barely inflated rafts reach the shore, paradise for the new arrivals slowly turns into an ugly reality, not much different than Dante's Inferno. It is here, on the islands of the Northern Aegean and Dodecanese that two of EU's major crises meet -- an extreme influx of refugees according to the UNHCR more than 720,000 so far in 2015 compared to only 40,000 last year while more than 3,500 persons many children lost their lives trying to reach the supposedly open Europe fleeing their wiped-out homelands, and the financial struggle of Greece, which is on its knees and can hardly support its own citizens facing huge piles of debt and a high unemployment rate. The economic and refugee crises are converging mostly on the island of Lesvos, in particular -- which has received the highest number of arrivals, almost half of the total number of refugees arriving in Greece. The prime role of Lesvos on the migration route is largely an accident of geography: its waters are calm, it is close to Turkey -- so close that refugees have to cross as few as six miles of water to reach the island -- and, at the same time, the nearby Turkish shores are sparsely inhabited, which makes them ideal places for smugglers to gather refugees and launch them in flimsy inflatable rafts.

Solidarity Now together with other NGOs are trying to assist and provide services but the needs are increasing. The post-World War II world order was based on a global commitment to never again allow the mass violation of human dignity and human rights that the world had just witnessed. Yet, the current situation in the EU indicates otherwise. During my visits to Lesvos, I witnessed a near post-apocalyptic scene, which created an inevitable double shock to me: the immense scale of the refugee flow and the arrival conditions. With the absence of a proper transportation service, people were forced to walk 30 miles to the nearest small center of registration. The overall lack of services and protection, along with the mere fact that these people are chased away from their homelands or are forced to flee (for fear of persecution/death) and most of the time, not wanted where they wish to go -- mostly Germany and Scandinavian countries, have engendered tensions, including clashes with the police and protests.

But this situation is not just another Greek problem; in fact, it is one more crisis the entire EU is forced to confront. Unfortunately though, its leaders are prioritizing securing borders rather than helping refugees find their own Ithaca. This has been the case with certain member states- such as Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, all of whom opted out of the quota system for accepting refugees. A system that made its way through with a qualified majority and was designed to relocate people across member- states - 160,000 a mere fraction of the numbers received. But as the world is witnessing the worst refugee crisis since 1945, what Europe's borders need is not fences which exclude people and break down the nucleus of the Union which is based on solidarity, but instead, safe entry points for refugees, and facilities to receive them with dignity and humanity - at least 1,000,000 per year should be legally and safely relocated in the EU via processing centers in Turkey - we see now many nationalities being kept out of EU countries which in essence is racial profiling. Besides, it is not illegal for someone to cross the border and request asylum! Unfortunately though, nobody can force anyone, to do the right thing, which comes down to helping these people get out of this modern Odyssey safely. This reminds us that the current refugee crisis is none other than a very strict moral test for Greece, the EU and for humanity overall. After the recent horrific acts by the terrorist organization Daesh around the world including many cities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, Nigeria, Lebanon and in Paris, France the question is will we listen to our fears and abandon the Schengen agreement and take other measures that reduce our rights to free and open societies or will we let the refugees reach their own Ithaca? If we do not, this crisis will be the end of the project known as the European Union.