FNF Greece: Looking for answers, finding more questions – Visiting refugee camps in Greece

An emotionally and physically intense two-day workshop on the Greek island of Lesvos was the kick-off of an event series  called “The European Refugee Crisis: Liberal Answers to Challenges on Land & Sea” co-hosted by the Greek project office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) and the European Liberal Forum (ELF).  Participants from fourteen different European countries took the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the refugee crisis, its repercussions on the population of the Aegean islands and the refugees alike, and the latest European strategies to absorb its impact.

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“Captain Camp” Stavros Mirogiannis bringing participants and refugees together

To get a clear picture of the current situation, the group visited the “Kara Tepe” refugee camp and met with its manager Stavros Mirogiannis who dedicates nearly every minute of his day to deal with the inhabitants’ needs. “Europe needs people like Stavros since they are the ones who ensure a humane and yet consistent regulated treatment of refugees”, Andreas Glück, a Member of Parliament in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, noted afterwards. “Without committed people like him, every humanitarian legislation adopted by politicians would fail.”

The participants also spoke with several refugees who fervently expressed their hopes and fears. “Why do we have to stay in this camp?”, “Why doesn’t Europe care about us?”, and “Why is my family not allowed to reunite with my husband?”, were questions nobody could really answer and left most of the participants deeply distraught. In addition to this already very moving experience, the participants also paid a visit to the “Lesbos Solidarity Camp” which currently hosts eighty vulnerable cases of mentally and physically challenged people, traumatized victims and families with new-born babies. It is run by volunteers from all over Europe.

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Not only practical experiences, also profound political and legal expertise was provided. Jean-Pierre Schembri, spokesperson of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), clarified the current and projected European regulations for asylum procedures while Jurgita Bivilyte and David Reisenzein from FRONTEX explained the challenges a joint European border and coast guard has to cope with. Among others, Boris Cheshirkov from UNHCR vividly explained the hardships volunteers and refugees alike constantly face regardless of the numbers crossing the Aegean at any given time.

“You can see Turkey’s coastline just on the other side of the sea, and it is just devastating that so many lives were and still are lost on such a short journey”, one participant concluded. “We as Europeans have to learn a lot more about the implications of the refugee crisis and how we can uphold liberal values like the right to asylum and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The first of several ELF events meant to increase understanding surrounding various aspects of the refugee crisis. It was conducted in cooperation with the Greek project office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), KEFIM-Markos Dragoumis and the Centre for Liberal Studies.

Markus Kaiser, Project Manager Greece