Tattered shirts hang along clotheslines connected to chain link fences. Shoeless children, coming from trailer-sized compartments that hold families of eight or more, play around burning trash piles and seemingly endless dumps of some other society’s discarded detritus. These are not the first images one associates with Athens, the home of Plato and Western civilization. Nonetheless, it is a harsh reality bearing on Greece both economically and culturally. On Friday, Boston College students Marilyn Smith, CSOM ’18, and Angelos Bougas, MCAS ’21, presented their 30-minute documentary on the refugee crisis in Greece, Two Islands. Drawing from the lives of Greek teachers, homeowners, and politicians, as well as Afghan refugees, Two Islands is a masterful feat of international social justice.
Since 2015, over 175,000 migrants have fled their wartorn homes of Syria and Afghanistan. For Greece’s Kos Island, the influx of these migrants created serious economic pressures. As Lefteris Papagiannakis, the island’s mayor, explained, even well-organized countries in Europe like Germany faced troubles absorbing immigrants from the Middle East. “It’s a matter of management,” Papagiannakis said, “[As the biggest municipality], we’ll chip in a lot.” But management might be more difficult for Greece than it is for other countries. When the EU set up a series of NGOs to fund centers for refugees, the Greek government could only prove the legality of the organizations through Facebook. It is no surprise that officials would want to use such international relief foundations as machines for profit. At the time of filming, Greece had entered the ninth year of its economic downturn, one that had pinched Kos significantly, as its tourism industry (which accounts for 90 percent of all the island’s income) continued waning.
But as Two Islands displayed magnificently, the community was doing its best to facilitate the transition process for many people in distress. Greek homeowner Eleni described waking up each morning to see the beaches all yellow, full of life jackets discarded by incoming migrants. Feeling the need to assist some of the children who lived in such impoverished areas as the “Moria Asylum Center”, which is described by many anonymous inmates as a prison or confinement center, Eleni fixed her house to accomodate for 32 immigrant children. They were children who had lost their arms, who had lost their families, who had been traumatized by overwork and “bad stays” in Turkey. Eleni noted the progress made by her new family members as they opened up to her and began playing as kids often do, regardless of environment or circumstance.
Such spiritedness and optimism was indeed inspiring for Sayed Hamed Mosawi, an Afghan English teacher who left his home country after his town was taken by the Taliban in 2016. It became too “risky and dangerous” to continue his profession. “I was serving the society, my people, to be able to make their future,” said Mosawi, describing his lifelong passion to teach English. But the Taliban had a “different mentality.” “They thought I was making [Afghan children] ready to work for the Americans.” The tedious process of seeking asylum in Greece caused Mosawi great fear and strain. To ward off homesickness and other emotional burdens, Mosawi took up jump-roping, an activity the documentary covered in length—showing his leaping body among the otherwise impoverished and prison-like background of Moria Asylum.
Smith and Bougas also reached out to an elementary school teacher who had taught and cared for many Syrian and Afghan refugee children during the past year and a half. She taught her new pupils, many of whom could obviously not speak Greek, through facial expressions, hand movements, and body gestures. For her, the Greek economic crisis and war in the Middle East were one and the same problem. In a poignant ending scene, she pleaded to the viewer to “please stop the war” so that such children and their families could flourish in whatever environment they decide to settle. Mayor Papagiannakis voiced similar sentiments, saying that immigration had happened since the beginning of history and that Greece must look to countries like America, which is a model country that was built of migrants. “[We must] have [an] open mind, start seeing things differently, and stop being afraid.”
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Staff