We Are All Refugees
The documentary 4.1 Miles featured in this issue gives just a glimpse into what people are suffering who flee their countries torn apart by war because they need to save their children. And what a country like Greece, beset by its own troubles, is trying to do as much as humanly possible. Filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki was granted access to a Greek Coast Guard crew that had the impossible task of fishing unending boatloads of desperate families from the sea—many with heartbreaking results.
“I can’t reassure them,” says the heroic captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos. “When I look into their eyes I see their memories of war.”
And yet he keeps trying, and despite his stoic demeanor, he never stops feeling the urgency of saving lives: “Put the camera down and hold this baby!” he tells Matziarakis at one point.
The villagers of Lesbos also try to help with whatever resources they have, and allow the cameras to intrude because as one villager said: “We’re glad the cameras are showing what’s happening to the world because we can’t be going through this alone.”
Literally alone, because the world is shutting its doors to the plight of nearly 60 million people who are fleeing the carnage in their countries. The flight is one of the greatest mass migrations in world history. The need is as desperate as it ever was in any time in world history. While the world plays global politics people are suffering, children are drying, families are being torn apart and we are playing with our own domestic politics of xenophobia.
America is playing with xenophobia? America which was created by xenous? As Americans we have shameful episodes in our history (slavery, the Japanese internment, the waves of xenophonia with every wave of immigration, the refusal by FDR to help Jewish refugees during World War Two, the absurdities of the McCarthy era which affected the whole world, particularly Greece fighting for its very survival) but somehow we came to our senses and remembered what our values were.
We Greeks, who tout ourselves on our success, and rightfully so because we came here and worked like dogs, and deservedly became successful have to remember on a larger scale just where we came from and what we suffered. We can’t let other people suffer an even worse fate, we can’t forget our humanity, and most of all we can’t let a country like Greece, coping with its own fate, have to deal with a global emergency like this with practically no resources and only the zeal and conscience of volunteers and people like Captain Kyriakos and his crew and the villagers of islands like Lesbos.
Americans, we Greek Americans, with our unparalleled resources should be flooding islands like Lesbos and Chios on the front line with the resources that they need (money for food and hospitals and emergency clothing) and should be petitioning the Trump Administration to find a solution to an immigration crisis that won’t go away and will only get worse and will affect this country (as it already has) even if we shut all our windows and doors.
Dimitri C. Michalakis