Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.” Jane Addams

I was at a social gathering the other night. Our friends had told those who we were meeting for the first time that I was a writer. They asked me thoughtful questions about the writing life, my novel, and many questions about the business of writing. I thought perhaps they were emerging writers themselves, but no, they said, “we’re just avid readers.”

I love engaged readers. And I should have stayed at that level of polite chitchat. After all it was incredibly generous of these strangers to ask about my work, but these days, I can’t seem to shut up about the refugee crisis in Europe. The platform doesn’t seem to matter. Whether it’s a get together with fellow writers, or a social event as the one I described above, or a coffee with a friend, or an early morning conversation with my father, my discretion and tact button seems to malfunction.

 I know what you’re thinking. When have you ever had an understand-who-you’re-talking-to-and-what-situation-you’re-in-before-you-start-spouting-off–button?  Okay, I’ll grant you that. I’m opinionated. Stop laughing. It’s not like I don’t know this about myself. Still this refugee crisis has become personal.

I was an immigrant once too. I see myself every night on the news in the frightened faces of little girls clutching to their anxious mothers.

Of the over one million people who crossed into Europe last year, most (just over 850,000) came via tiny economically destitute Greece. Close to 3700 died attempting the crossing into Europe last year. In the first two months of 2016, close to 140,000 people have crossed into Europe via Greece. It’s winter, the waters are dangerous and still they come.

Some 400 people, mostly children have died so far this year. And now some European countries have closed their borders to refugees, leaving tens of thousands of people, again mostly children, stranded in make shift camps where cold, wet conditions will undoubtedly lead to despair, disease and death.

How could anyone look at the pictures flashed on our screens and not take action, positive action to ease the suffering of so many? Apparently the Greek grandmothers who come out each day to help people off of capsized boats get that and do their part to help. The Greek fishermen who take their boats out to save refugees and the countless number of Greek people who volunteer, run food drives and bring warm clothes to refugees know what is needed too. They roll up their sleeves and get what needs to be done, done.

At the other end, we have impotent leaders of countries such as Hungry, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who can’t do anything more than build walls and hide behind their fear that the Syrian mothers and their small children will be importing terrorism if they are allowed to enter their countries. Aren’t these the same countries that asked others to take in their citizens when conflict hit their shores? Yes, one and the same.

The solution now being touted by some in Europe is to return all illegal refugees to Turkey and for each one returned, a person from a Turkish refugee camp would be allowed to relocate to Europe. Some people actually think this might stop refugees from crossing the Mediterranean. Except, human rights groups have pointed out that a similar 2015 deal only resulted in 800 Syrians being resettled in Europe from Turkey. This deal was supposed to have allowed 22,500 Syrian refugees to be relocated. So I’m just wondering: how successful is this new program going to be? Again, just wondering.

See? I’m doing it again, going on and on to anyone willing to listen.

I’d really like to be on the ground with the Greeks and others who provide for the refugees, day in and day out. I’d like to be doing something concrete to stave off, even for a brief instant, all the suffering. But, at the moment, I feel unable to do much more than make people aware of the situation. It’s not enough. I know. My ongoing rants are a sure sign to me that I’m covering up for my own guilt.

Hm. Reflecting inward. Maybe that will shut me up for awhile. Worth a try.

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