Thursday, January 28, 2016

other ramifications of the refugee crisis

i haven't worked the past few days as i've had a pretty nasty cold. though i rarely get sick, it's not too surprising. i was just recovering from the flu when i boarded the plane for athens--a pretty long flight. then, an overnight trip by ferry to lesvos, and a bus ride through the mountains to molyvos. the next morning, i attended an induction meeting for starfish--the volunteer group i'm working with--and immediately jumped in to work. at moria, the registration camp where i mostly work, we come into contact with thousands of people every day, some of whom are bound to be sick. i'm also cold all the time; we all are. though i was monitoring the weather in lesvos while still in san francisco, and it appeared to be comparable, it's not. it's much colder here. the only real similarity is that you don't warm up when you go inside, either. there is heat in my hotel room, but it's not terribly effective. those lovely marble floors which i'm sure would be beautifully cool to walk on in the heat of summer, are ice cold in winter.

i'm lucky this hotel is even open though, at a price i can bear. usually, it's only open for the season which should start in february. i surely hope that means it's going to warm up soon. but the nice people who own the hotel have opened it for volunteers who need a place to stay. they have told me that they're losing money by being open, but that it's not a lot and they want to do their part to help too. they've  also  told me, more disturbingly, that their bookings for the season are down 80%.
that's a huge--even prohibitive--loss of revenue. tourists don't want to come to a place where they might see a refugee boat landing, i suppose. other business owners here have told me the same basic story. one woman spoke of a friend who owns a jewelry store. she's not getting any business either. the woman who spoke has a job six months out of the year at a local tourist agency. she's wondering if she will have a job this year. she doesn't think so. no job, no income. the woman who founded starfish is garnering some income from her restaurant from the volunteers who are here, but all we volunteers are watching our money carefully. since we aren't getting paid, we don't have much to spend beyond bare necessity, and bare necessity doesn't include a lot of restaurant meals.

and of course, the greek economy is already in bad shape. the revenue lost from a severe lack of tourists is not going to be made up by the limited monies that volunteers, NGOs, and refugees spend.
and it's a shame that tourists won't be coming.

lesvos is lovely. situated in the northern aegean, a short distance from turkey, the island has miles of beautiful coastline, a petrified forest i really want to see while i'm here, two of greece's finest art museums, the ruins of a city that achilles conquered, numerous hot springs, festivals, cafes... there's an old castle here in molyvos i plan to visit on sunday. it's spectacularly beautiful here. the people are nice, the air is fresh, the music of tinkling sheep and goat bells plays continuously in the background. the streets in the old city center of molyvos are cobblestoned and crooked, climbing the hills that rise just off the coast. i'm told there is an old covered market as well, but i haven't made my way there yet. when i'm not working, i'm usually too tired to do much exploring, though again, i must visit before my time here is up.

i worry that tourism is not going to pick up here any time soon. last summer, about 850,000 refugees came through lesvos. this january, alone, there have been about 50,000, and the number is expected to reach about 3 million this summer. as mentioned above, the revenue brought in by refugees, NGOs, and volunteers doesn't begin to match that normally brought in by tourists. and of course, the refugee crisis is a huge drain on extremely limited greek resources.

i wish the governments of the world were concerned enough about the refugee crisis to spend their resources finding a way to end it. rather than spending resources on the continuation of bombing and the closing of borders, spending those same resources on finding a way to end the devastation would clearly be a far better expenditure. of course, i personally gave up on placing my faith in government long ago. at the very least, though, governments should  help alleviate the financial drain on greece that their policies are causing.

but really--just stop the damn wars.

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