As one by one, charter flights are being cancelled to our beautiful island of Lesvos for the summer season 2016, our initial fears are being proven correct and are beginning to spiral slowly out of control.
We are not speaking about a mere decrease in tourism anymore. We are looking at a decrease in tourism higher than 80%- a similar number which we would have seen if we were actually in a state of war.
Until now, the focus of the world has been on how to deal with the refugee crisis, how to deal with the humanitarian rights of the people fleeing their countries but have failed to take into consideration how the local communities which are living this new reality have also been affected, let alone their own humanitarian rights as well.
We have provided our fullhearted support and we have given priority to our fellow human beings in more need than us. We have put our own lives, our own needs, our wants, our dreams all on hold in order to merely deal with the flow of refugees passing literally -in my own family’s case-through our very backyards.
But now we are coming to the point where we too must ask, how will our government and the international community support us now? What measures will they take in order to save us as well from complete financial and pyschological despair?
We are thinking about the local businesses which will not open this year because they cannot afford to run their business under these conditions. We are thinking about all the people who will not be hired this year to work, as there is no work.
How will all these people put food on their table and provide security and healthy conditions to their families and children?
How will we sustain our own quality of life with integrity?
We are thinking about our friends and family members who are already preparing scenarios of leaving…
We are thinking about how we will pay our loans to the government, let alone our taxes, our health insurance and our electricity bills.
People hear that business is booming thanks to the refugee crisis here on the island but they couldn’t be more wrong.
Yes-there are businesses which are working extremely well and have “made a killing”, but these are but a handful.
You must look at the entire island and take into consideration all the businesses, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, cinemas, jewellery shops, etc which have not opened at all yet…
Volunteer tourism alone cannot sustain all these businesses and all these families, because you must keep in mind that at the heart of the majority of business here on Lesvos are families.
There are articles all over the world talking about the “humanitarian heart” of Lesvos and people are voting for us to receive the Nobel Peace Prize….
We thank everyone for all this, but truly, in my eyes, all the Nobel Peace Prizes in the world mean nothing when the people around me have no work, have no financial security, have no faith in their own future and look at me with crying eyes drenched in fear and desperation because they know that they cannot feed their family for long.
It means nothing when we are ourselves forced on the path of becoming economic migrants and will be forced to leave our own country. And I wish I was being overdramatic, but unfortunately, I am not.
As our business partners and travel agencies look only at their bottom lines and turn their backs on us instead of fighting to find creative solutions to support us and promote us, as EU member states turn their backs on us as well, closing their borders, trapping thousands of fleeing refugees within Greece with nowhere to go, we ask- for how long will everyone be able to “turn a blind eye” and point blaming fingers at Greece?
My family has been on the forefront of dealing with the refugee crisis since April and have played our part in supporting the rights and safe passage of everyone reaching our shore.
But- I am also a mother and a teacher. What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t take into the consideration the future of my own children and their rights as well?
What kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t stand up for the future and the rights of my own students? I don’t know what to feel anymore- shame, fury, pain, devestation, disappointment, fear…
Then I look outside my window and see the shades of light, the almond trees blossoming in my garden and I focus on my children giggling in the background.
I think of all the amazing people I have met on this journey who have supported us and our island.
I think of all the friends I have made along the way. All these thoughts, sounds and images thus give me strength to refuse to give up hope- in honour of all of them and for my own well-being.
We are asking for solidarity and support through actions not only for the refugees but also for the local communities affected by all this. We ask for people to visit our beautiful island, to support our businesses.
We have come to the point where we must fight to support our own existence as well.