On June 13th, 2021, Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of INTERSOS Hellas, joined SKAI 100.3’ s radio show «Parea..me ti Maria Douroudi» (meaning: Along with Maria Douroudi)  in order to speak with the journalist Maria Douroudi about the issue of the living conditions in the camps and the consequent impact on refugees’ mental health, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

Veizis underlined the wrong actions taken regarding the management of this issue and the urgent need for drastic solutions, saying the following:

«INTERSOS is a humanitarian organization that has been on the world stage for 30 years with missions around the world, as well as in Greece since 2016. Today it is present on the island of Lesvos, in Epirus and Thessaly. It intervenes in the urgency of Lesvos, in the integration of refugees inland. There are programs that are currently running inland, either in Epirus or in Thessaly where we are active as INTERSOS so that refugees can join.

There are two versions regarding the perspective of the refugee image. It depends on how we see it. Do we want to see it as idealized or as it really is? And the reality is quite difficult for people who are themselves refugees and people who have to live with them. So, starting from the island of Lesvos, the people who have to live with the refugees are going through difficulties because the choices made by the EU. and implemented by the Greek government, have to do with the confinement of people in the Greek islands.

The solidarity expressed by the Greek people in 2015, in 2016 and during the last five years was left to autopilot and these people coexist with the refugees staying in the famous camp “Moria II” established in Mavrovouni, and all this with the chances of building a new “Moria III” somewhere further away, in the rubbish, on the island of Lesvos.

The refugees do not need neither Lesvos, nor do they need any island to be trapped in there. Of course, on the islands there should be structures that welcome some people when they arrive. But at the moment the “convenient lie” used for our fellow human beings on the islands, is that this is also done for the good of the islanders, which I honestly doubt it. It’ s not true!

The responsibility of Europe and the Greek government was not to have these prisons on the islands. In other words, Europe as a whole should be able to deal fairly with the demands of these people, treating them with solidarity which would also strengthen its tendency to be promoted as one of the richest and most progressive places in the world. Europe must be able to take responsibility in the face of this issue.

Globally, if we are talking about 70 million refugees worldwide, I think that Europe itself has a share of responsibility towards our fellow human beings. Things are not better than five or six years ago just because the Greek government insists on showing that the number of people arriving in Greece is smaller and the number of those leaving Greece is higher.

I assure you that 100,000 people who have been recognized as refugees in Greece, have again applied for asylum in Germany, because theoretically they cannot stay in Greece. So basically, I do not know what we are looking for as a society, as a state in front of these people.

And secondly, after six years, the camps that exist on the islands as well as those in the mainland never ceased to be a sign of the inability of the EU. in the face of such an issue. Why do we have to invest 300 million euros in Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros just to build new bigger structures, etc., in order to accommodate these people? Such a thing is not actually needed.

Now the structures that we need and operated on the island of Lesvos, such as the camp under the management of the Municipality in Kara Tepe, the structure of PIKPA, etc., yes, they were small in size, but they could meet the daily needs of these people, and despite that they were closed. What’ s left is the new camp in Mavrovouni where even next winter will find once more the refugees who have seen nothing else but tents and mud for all these years.

Apart from the people who actually endure this situation, the inhabitants of Lesvos will suffer with them, as well. I do not think that this image is worth it, neither for the people of Lesvos, nor for the people of the other islands, nor for Greece generally. I think it is a difficult but manageable issue, of course not in terms of opportunistic policies.

In this way, there can be no result! At least my own image from Ioannina, Larissa, Karditsa where the municipalities try to contribute as a whole to the integration of these people in Greek society with any means and capabilities they have no matter their size. Thanks to their efforts they have helped the societies themselves. In fact, in these societies, when asked if there are refugees, they will answer that “we do not see any refugees” because in essence the problem ceases when you do not treat a person as a problem.

The government and the EU are trying to create and highlight an image. The EU wants Greece to do the so-called “dirty work”, and in turn the Greek government all the time wants to present a picture that is constantly improving and has nothing to do with that of 2015, while in this case there is no lack of money. What is missing is the political will.

What ‘s the point of saying that there are no longer 23,000 refugees in Lesvos? At the moment, is it more important, if there are 6,000 or their living conditions? Does size mostly matter and not how these people get by? I think that in 2021 in the EU we must not talk in numbers. Whether it’ s about 23,000 or 6,000 or even if it’s about one person staying on Lesvos, in the same way they will be treated by the state. And of course, I am not talking about the residents of the island itself, because they are not responsible and they are not to blame!

And when I hear that “we move on to stage 2” or to “a 5-on-5 stadium” or “we close Kara Tepe”, these are “convenient lies” that are shared with the public opinion to justify that things change even if they do not change at all! 6,000 remain trapped in Lesvos. What do you intend to do with these people? The citizens of Lesvos who have paid a price for 5-6 years do not want this in return.

In order to change the current image, a European country is needed, such as Greece that really shows its solidarity and asks other European countries to build on solidarity as well. This will not be achieved by refoulements, wrong solutions and by asking people to leave Greece to go somewhere else. I can tell you that when these people decide to leave and get their passports which allow them to travel up to 90 days a year, they will come back.

What the government and the EU are trying to do here is to somewhat improve the image. But I think they invest money in the wrong models. The money must be invested for the needs of the Greek people and the needs of the refugees who fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how one sees it, are a part of society and today their number is small and manageable.

The most optimistic picture I can give is that of the thousands of refugees who have joined Greek society by really becoming a part of it and contributing to everyday life. The only positive image that one can talk about is the integration of these people in a European society and not necessarily in Greece because, as we said, Greece has specific potentials as a country».

You can listen to the whole discussion here:

https://www.skairadio.gr/parea-me-ti-maria-douroudi/episode-2021-06-13

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