My SymiWillTragedy and Hypocrisy 17/01/2009, 01:59

A tragedy hit Symi a few days ago that has affected the people here in a deep way. On that morning, some, if not all (I do not know the details), of about twenty refugees (I don't know their nationality) travelling across the sea from Turkey to Symi (I do not know how they were travelling) ended up in the cold sea...and a baby drowned. Nikos came up to me as I was walking about in Yialos taking photos for SymiGreece. His body language, face, and tone of voice were a mixture of anger and sadness, and he said to me "Come and tell the World about this, Will, on your website. It is the worst thing to happen to Symi for a long time...a baby has drowned...a baby!". He led me to the hospital by the cathedral church of Ai Yianni where a crowd of Symi women had gathered with clothes and food, their faces as grave as Nikos's and many with tears in their eyes. The hospital was filled with the refugees, and all of Symi's doctors were attending them. I spoke to a man from the Port Authority and said I was from SymiGreece and that I wanted to tell people what had happened. He asked me to wait several days.

On Tuesday, I went up to Horio via the Kali Strata and saw little of Yialos. That night, it was cold, and I was huddled under my duvet, a fat cat purring near my head as I fell asleep, still there when I woke the next day. Wednesday, and I went out again to take more photos. This time it was windy...very windy. By the Clock Tower (the Roloi) I took a few pictures of the rough seas and then, huddled in my coat, I turned to come was miserable weather and SymiGreece would have to make do with fewer photos than usual that day. Under the plastic awning in front of Glaros rent-a-car, a dozen or so of the refugees were huddled together, one with a crying baby. They spent that night there, and the next night,...and the next. At the time of writing this, I wonder how many more nights they'll stay there, with such a poor shelter.

Today, waiting for the Proteas to arrive, a resident of Symi spoke with me about her disgust at how these people, after all they had been through, were spending night after night under a plastic awning protected from the rain and the worst of the winds, but still out in the cold. I've defended Symi and Greece's treatment of refugees in the past; that at least the people aren't locked up like they are in the UK; but like the lady who spoke to me, I'm apalled that the best that can be done for these January of all months...and in storms! a blanket on a concrete floor in the open and chill air.

So where should I turn to point a finger of blame? At the people of Symi? At the Council? the Police? I know that the people do what they feel they can, that the council has asked for funding to temporarily house these people and has been repeatedly snubbed, and that the Police are doing the best job they can; refugees land on Symi by the hundred all year and every one must be interviewed and recorded, and then allowed to go free. The refugees are fed and helped by the people here, but nobody should be expected to take responsibility for these people-in-need by bringing them into their own own homes. Hotels remain mostly empty during the winter, so should they be expected to accommodate so many people at no cost given that the Council has no funds to pay them? Are there council-owned buildings that could have been used? school halls? public buildings?

Whatever the answer to this question (and I do not know the answer), I can't help but think of the one organisation above all others that should have stepped in right at the start. They are people who preach charity while giving none, who take money from the credulous with little given in return, who appoint themselves as the mouthpiece of the ultimate moral authority and condemn you for disagreeing with them, who moralise against people's preferences and choices because of their own choice to believe in an imaginary all-powerful superbeing, and who demand obedience without question. I am not a religious man; I find the whole concept of the male-only, heirarchical, bigoted church to be an insult to human dignity...and the same for all the other religions and schism-born fractions of religions too, come to that. The fat and puffed-up churchmen who preach their drivel and take the people's money so they can live their lazy lives...where are they now when a grief-striken group of refugees need shelter? Why wasn't the Cathedral Church opened so that these people could sleep the night out of the winds? When all the pilgrims' cells are empty at Panormitis, why haven't these people been housed and fed there? Am I cynical to note that there is plenty of food to share out in the days surrounding the Panormitis Day Festival among the Greeks who visit the monastery (and who stuff their euro notes into the collection boxes) but nothing for the (almost definitely) non-christian refugees? What use is the church if it can't act when it needs to act, and instead does nothing more than put on shows for the people on several dates during the year?

Really, it is of no use at all.

The Orthodox Church is no worse, maybe, in its hypocrisy than the churches in the rest of the World who all, without exception, preach life-destroying, soul-crushing, sexist, divisive gibberish. I'm sure many will want to criticise me for singling them out for blame in this blog, but nobody else on Symi is preaching Charity and Love-thy-Neighbour from the pulpit every week (and getting well paid for it), while exhibiting no charity themselves and ignoring those neighbours who don't happen to share the same faith as them. The Orthodox Church (not only of Greece) has ever looked after its own and turned its back on others.

Whatever force for good the church played in the past in keeping the Greek people united during centuries of occupation, that force is long spent.


(7) Comments

  1. Joanie said on 17/01/2009, 14:11

    What a terrible tragedy,that poor baby.
    I agree with you about the Church,they should open the door for these people, or Panormitis when those rooms are'nt being used.They preach religion they should practice it

  2. Lofty said on 17/01/2009, 14:19

    From what i can gather it's probable they are from Afghanistan.They came over from Turkey on an inflatable boat which capsized when they were trying to evade the coast guard vessel.The baby was 40 days old.
    The monastery at Panormitis would be an ideal place to stay.

  3. brightfuture said on 17/01/2009, 17:38

    What a terrible tragedy! Those poor souls, out in cold weather and after that ordeal. The continuing arrival of refugees is a difficult problem to solve, but I agree that one would think that the Church could step in on this occasion to help these people.


  4. Simon said on 17/01/2009, 21:13

    A truly awful tragedy! Panormitis would be ideal for giving them shelter, away from prying eyes and cameras and a chance to recover from there ordeal, and sadly, the lack of response and help from the religious quarter's dosent surprise me at all. Shame on them!

  5. Simon said on 24/01/2009, 23:26

    I will add to this that a blogger from Symi,has posted a pic of the poor unfortunate people on her page!..shame on her!!!

  6. Will said on 27/01/2009, 01:50

    I had adequate opportunity to take similar photos and decided not to...not really much point, after all. Pictures don't always paint a thousand words...sometimes it's the other way around.

  7. sugardens said on 02/02/2009, 23:36

    There are hundreds of wealthy tourists holidaying on Symi each year.....maybe they could be asked to donate to support the refuges.

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