A Picture of Apathy – a response to Paul Adams’ article ‘Migrant Crisis: Lesbos is a microcosm of Europe’s difficulties’

Comment

When I first read Adams’ piece I was confused; was I reading a news article about the tragedy that is the refugee crisis, or was I reading a romantic novel, or even a travel brochure? There’s some lovely prose about the sea spray and the sun’s rays, but upon finishing reading I could not recall a single piece of meaningful information. The crux of the problem is that amongst his poetic narration, Adams essentially ignores the implications of what he is describing on human life.

 

The reader is encouraged to view the whole situation as a spectacle. Look at that proud English man help the eager, but incompetent, Greeks! Observe the “extraordinary events” unfold in front of you! Don’t worry about doing anything, just enjoy the juxtaposition of the unmoving flamingos and the bustling refugees! Adams has written something romantic, cinematic, and entirely inappropriate for such a serious issue. But the problem doesn’t just lie in the writing style. It’s the fact that the article not only patronises everyone who reads it, but, in doing so, totally obscures what is actually going on.

 

Adams fails to mention the effects of the bitter cold the winter will bring across Europe. Astonishingly, it’s actually treated as a saviour. Certainly, for some of the residents of Lesbos, it does offer a well-earned respite (however, also absent in the article is the barely disguised resentment towards the refugees from some of the residents of these Greek islands). But what about the refugees themselves, what does the winter mean for them?

 

No mention is made of the extra suffering that these people will have to endure as they cross the sea – other than through an anecdote about the rough conditions forcing a professional back to shore (how an amateur smuggler with an overfilled inflatable boat will manage is left out). Nothing is said about their journey up through Greece and beyond. Moreover, that the border is closed to anyone who can’t prove Syrian, Iraqi, or Afghan citizenship goes unmentioned. Anyone wishing to cross the border who doesn’t fall within this category will have to sneak across at night, in the freezing cold, and often evading armed and not particularly nice policemen. The highest temperature at the border is currently around 1°C, and it is only going to go down from there. Once they cross the border, the refugees will have to walk through Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria and beyond during winter. These aren’t countries known for their tepid climate. Many will die. Young children and men travelling alone with barely any clothes will be most vulnerable. Winter is not looking like so much fun after all.

 

Speaking of fun, didn’t the scene on the shore sound exciting? With people relieved to still be dry, and children being given sweets and those pesky Roma trying to get some of the “handouts”. Firstly, “handouts” are not given to the refugees. They are not being selfish or being given too much, as the word implies. On the island of Kos, at least, local charities replace wet clothes with dry ones and give everyone food and water. Dry, warm clothes and a bite to eat are the difference between a person who will survive the night and one who won’t.

 

And the act of handing out of sweets to children perhaps hides the most of all. The children are not given sweets because that is their equivalent of a handout. They are given sweets, and toys too, because it is disconcerting to look into the eyes of a five-year old child and realise that those sunken, distant, traumatised eyes know more about life and death than you ever will. The sweets are to try and bring them back, make them smile – rescue them.

 

We don’t need to relax or stop our efforts because winter is coming. The response from the rest of Europe cannot be to “take stock” or decrease – it has to increase in order to prevent suffering and save lives. Europe and its citizens need, if anything, to do more to help what could quickly turn into a major humanitarian crisis. People will die from this cold, and we can stop it. People should donate shoes, coats, scarves, hats and any old winter gear laying around to any of a number of charities in Greece so that at least they can have more of a fighting chance when the real cold does hit. But they won’t if articles like Adams’ continue to appear; at best they are apathetic, and at worst they romanticise real, powerful, and heart-breaking human suffering.

 

The original article can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35210206