No fence is strong enough to forever hold back the tide of human hope. One way or another, the fence will be brought down, breached or circled and the same is true today across Europe – thousands of refugees will not be denied safe haven.
And yet the European Union collectively continues to think it can absolve itself from its humanitarian responsibilities.
This week’s deal with Turkey is the latest example of how human lives have become numbers – bargaining chips in a game of politics as Europe’s leaders have repeatedly squabbled in the face of the continent’s biggest refugee crisis since WWII.
Sending people back to Turkey after they sailed across the sea to Greece is not only cruel, the UN refugee agency UNHCR has also said it would contravene their right to protection under European and international law. Morally and legally wrong.
It is folly to think that the suffering of those stuck on the borders in freezing rain and mud will fade away, that they will disappear into the night never to be heard from again. The strength of will carries on. The hope in their hearts beats on.
For more than a year, Greece has been the first port of call for thousands of Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi people who have risked everything in the hope of safety.
Today, as the borders remained closed at northern Greece they continue to wait.
And yet, many more continue to arrive, like in Lesbos, where Greenpeace has helped Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rescue refugees at sea for the past three months, taking action where Europe’s leaders failed.
To see is to believe and that’s the problem – too few people have seen and too few people believe how dire the situation is of the 800,000 people who entered my country via the dangerous Aegean Sea crossing last year.
Whatever the politics is in Brussels, or other European capitals, there can be no denial about the human suffering and dignity we have witnessed in Greece.
I’ve seen it first-hand – I’ve seen how these amazing people have held their head high, how they’ve arrived in rubber dinghies with nothing but strength and the courage to dream, to seek refuge for children or babies just days or weeks old.
Across my country I’ve also seen how we’ve responded, in true Greek fashion. I’ve seen the depth of caring, how people have cooked meals, given clothing away, opened their homes to those in need, how they’ve rescued people from the sea and given others the fitting burial they deserved.
And yet, I would never have believed that one day I would see Europe’s leaders’ turn their backs on them and collectively watch them drown.
All attention has been placed on efforts to close the borders, from Northern Europe to the Balkans and finally through to Turkey, aiming to stem the flow without heed to the tragedy that these people were seeking safety from war.
Europe talked numbers, not people.
And here in Greece I continue to witness the reality of Europe’s failure. I will not close my eyes though. I cannot and will not accept that this is my Europe. No, we are better than this and we will hold Europe’s leaders to account.
Alexandra Messare is the the programme director at Greenpeace Greece
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