It’s quite possible that today we didn’t have a single arrival to Chios. It’s curious, because the weather was excellent (reached 65 F/17 C with partly cloudy skies and almost no wind). You kind of never know what’s happening on the Turkish side of the strait, however.
I will break the blog out into two shorter entries today and will touch on Turkey lightly in one of them.
My Little Pony
My favorite moments here have been when I’m in or around the clothing boutique, it’s a slow day and someone needs clothes, because they have wet or damaged ones. Well, not just anyone, but small kids. You get to take your time, because you open the boutique through the back door just for them (and a parent) and they get to be behind the counter where their eyes just get huge with all the curious things back there.
Today, just that happened. An Afghani man brought in his 3-year old daughter, because her pants were wet and her winter boots were also wet and kind of falling apart. This girl was adorable and had hair so dark and thick even the Greeks would have been envious. Her father communicated what she needed and so I dragged over the box of shoes that were for her age group. As I’ve stated before, the selection is limited and fairly crappy. I gauged her shoe size and started rummaging through the shoes, pulling one pair that was close, but didn’t fit. I was watching her and her huge brown eyes just popped open like she saw a large ice cream cone. They were fixed on My Little Pony rain boots, exactly her size. But, she didn’t say anything. I asked her if she wanted them and she nodded her head vigorously. I checked with her father if they were okay and he seemed very happy too. She squeezed in them and walked out very proud of her new boots (and socks and pants), saying “bye-bye” as she left (with an appreciative father behind her, never asking anything for himself).
The way to make a child super happy is to give them anything that has a recognized cartoon or adventure hero on them: Mickey Mouse, Nemo, Minions, etc. These characters are so prolific worldwide now that all these kids know who they are. I saw a boy emerge from the boutique with a “new” Spiderman t-shirt and raise his arms as if he’d won a race. I put Minnie Mouse shoes on an 18-month old girl who glowed from ear to ear. It’s the little victories.
Politics, what else?
There are so many aspects to this refugee crisis that are political. Some of you probably have been following the politics of this entire debacle more than I have since I’ve arrived over here. I sometimes see how it plays out on the ground, but I don’t entirely understand the connection or rationale all the time. And then there are the local politics of which I have a funny anecdote. Here are a few examples:
- Frontex, the EU border police, who is supposed to be registering the refugees, still isn’t working in Tabakika. They pulled out a few weeks ago, because there was suspected asbestos in the roof. UNHCR is not back yet either from what I’ve seen, but Samaritan’s Purse is. NRC never left. From what I’ve heard, the asbestos rumors were cleared, but I have not heard this officially. But, it seems that Frontex’s lack of presence in Tabakika for registration is purely political, with the asbestos as an excuse. From what I’ve heard, some EU member states don’t want them working.
- That means the Greek police have taken over the registration process, as I have mentioned before. The registration system has a bad habit of breaking down fairly frequently, or working very slowly. Far too frequently to be a glitch. The Greek police also like to take long breaks and seem to work when they want to. During the crazy night on the 1st when 1,500+ refugees arrived, it was understood that if they opened, they would stay open all night, because otherwise it would be better to have everyone stay at Souda where it’s not as cold and the accommodations are better than the concrete floor of Tabakika. But, shortly after 3:00 am, they stopped working until far into the next morning, so people were stuck at Tabakika, freezing. Something about their colleagues not working, because it was the 1st of January…
- Turkey has accepted 3 billion Euro and renewed talks for EU accession in exchange to hold back the flood of refugees. There has only been a slight downtick in the number of refugees from November to December. We’ve heard about the Turkish police rounding up 400 refugees about to leave from Çesme to Chios and had them sent to Izmir, but the same just made their way back to cross anyway. Conditions in Turkey for refugees are not very pleasant and very few want to stay there. I don’t think the Turks want them there either, so their motivation to stop the flow is not exactly high.
- A small local example… I’m sure there is a ton going on here locally, as it’s a charged topic with how many refugees are here all the time, but I’m not very aware of this. I’ve been helping with volunteer coordination work a bit during the slow days and I thought it would be good to develop a logo to put on all the documents, future website, app, etc. I developed the below with the advice of a friend and everyone that has seen it thus far has loved it. It looks like a boat, it’s blue, has water, uses Greek-style font, etc. I was told today that the locals don’t like it and they have refused to use it in favor of, from what I was told, a very ugly local one. Politics.
Photo: It has been hard to get a photo of one of the space heaters with the clothes drying on them without people in the shot, but here you go. This is what people huddle around and sleep under (you can see the mats) at night. No further than that chair on the left is to where the heat reaches when it’s really cold.