New Boundaries Cut Volunteers Off From Migrants In Greece
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
A million asylum-seekers from the Middle East and beyond have landed on the rocky shores of Lesbos in Greece over the course of the migrant crisis. Authorities were overwhelmed. Volunteers rushed in to help. Now the EU wants to shut the door on migrants, so it shut out those volunteers. Joanna Kakissis reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND HORN HONKING)
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: A week ago, this ferry pulled out of the main port on Lesbos headed for the Greek mainland. It was one of the last to carry Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans off the island. The refugees waved from the deck at volunteers standing at the port. Laura Jansen was cheering and fighting back tears.
LAURA JANSEN: I was saying I love you in Arabic and in Farsi and in English and just clapping 'cause I think they are so very brave and so very strong. And they do not know what is about to happen to them. I don't think any of us do.
KAKISSIS: Jansen put her music career on hold to move to Lesbos last year and help asylum-seekers. She used to interact with them every day. Now, because of an EU deal with Turkey, they're confined to a camp. Jansen can only see them behind a towering metal fence.
JANSEN: There's not a lot of access anymore for volunteers. Everything's becoming quite militarized. And the governments are stepping in and pushing volunteers out.
KAKISSIS: The EU deal seems to end a remarkable story on Lesbos, an island that showed mercy in the face of the greatest human migration into Europe since World War II.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHEERING)
KAKISSIS: It began a year ago. Asylum-seekers in orange life jackets crossed the sea from Turkey in rubber rafts. They landed on rocky beaches near a village where 85-year-old Maritsa Mavrapidi grew up.
MARITSA MAVRAPIDI: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: "I brought the refugees clothes from my closet," she says. "They were soaking wet, and I did not want them to catch cold." Soon, thousands were arriving every day. The volunteers followed. Syrian-American Neda Kadri spent hours translating and fundraising remotely from Dearborn, Mich. Then, a Syrian friend lost relatives in a shipwreck.
NEDA KADRI: This case made me feel like I don't want to be online. I don't want to be doing this over the phone. I want to be doing this in person. I want to be there.
KAKISSIS: She quit her job and moved to Lesbos, one of the thousands of volunteers who clothed, fed and even entertained refugees.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOWN PERFORMING)
KAKISSIS: Sabine Chouhair, a professional clown from Lebanon, wears a sparkly gold dress. She hugs six giggling kids from Syria. This scene played out last month at the port. Last fall, she was allowed to perform inside the main migrant camp.
SABINE CHOUHAIR: Like, every day we would have 3,500 people coming. So we basically were performing five to six times a day.
KAKISSIS: But now Greek police told her and fellow clown Kolleen Kintz they needed special permits.
KOLLEEN KINTZ: So we did all of the official paperwork. You know, we had everything notarized and submitted through, and we very quickly heard a no.
KAKISSIS: The final no came from the EU last week when it sealed the deal with Turkey to deport new refugees. Now the migrant camp on Lesbos is essentially a prison. Major aid groups like Doctors Without Borders left the camp because they say the new deal is inhumane and violates international law.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) No borders, no nations, stop deportations.
KAKISSIS: Clad in the orange life jackets once worn by the refugees, volunteers protested outside the camp on Thursday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS FIGHTING)
KAKISSIS: A fight broke out with police when the volunteers got too close to the fence, trying to clasp the hands of those trapped behind it. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis on Lesbos.]]
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