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The Immigrant Problem in Greece

Athens immigrantsTwo nights ago when I returned to our Kypseli apartment from Allotino Jazz Bar one of our African neighbors was standing in front of the building with a large empty plastic jerry-can. I know that the water company has shut off their water because they owe 800 euros which for them is impossible to pay. Andrea's father had been letting them fill up buckets from our tap while we were away and we have been filling them since we returned. They are from Gambia and speak English a little bit so I asked him whether he was waiting for a water truck. He told me he was though I don't know if he was joking or not. Maybe the street cleaning guys have been giving them water from their truck. I told him to come upstairs and fill it from our kitchen sink. While we were waiting for it to fill up I asked him some questions. There are four of them in the apartment now but there have been as many as eight and it is just a one-bedroom owned by some old woman in Crete who probably does not even notice if the rent is paid or not. None of them has a job and there is no way to make any money in Athens with the economic crisis since it was not easy to make money for them even before the crisis. Pandelis Melissinos had just given me 100 euros at dinner to give to Delapizza for the postcards he had sold in his shop so I gave my Gambian neighbor fifty.
"Don't spend this on ganga", I told him.
"No. No ganga. No alcohol." he replied.

illegal immigrants, AthensThen one of his roomates came out (sorry I don't know their names but it is kind of a revolving door situation in our next door apartment) and he had two more buckets which we filled and then some empty water bottles too. He wanted to go to Sweden but had not applied, and had no money and probably was not even sure where Sweden was exactly.
"Do you like Athens?" I asked them.
"No! Too hot. No work. No money. It is terrible here for us."
They missed Gambia and they wanted to go home but now had only my fifty euros between them instead of the four-hundred euros it would cost each of them to fly to Gambia. It got me thinking about the quality of my generosity. Here I was giving them water and a few euros which would enable them to eat for another few days, even more if they spent it wisely. At the tavernas and cafes I always have a lot of change to give to Toohin and the other Bangladeshi guys who sell the flowers. I don't even want the flowers. I would rather just give them the money. Most of the Athenians I know won't even look at these people. They just ignore them until they go away and if they don't go away they yell at them, so I feel like I am such a caring individual because I give them a euro to go away. But what if I could give these boys, (because they really are one step beyond being children), something of value? What if I could send then home to their families?

African immigrants, athensSo I looked up Gambia on Wikipedia and as African countries go it does not seem like such a bad place. I am sure that if my neighbors knew what Athens was going to be like they would never have left. They even said that Athens was a much worse place than Gambia! OK. I believe it. Duncan, the Kenyan guy who fixes my computer at home says Durham, NC is a much more dangerous place than Nairobi.

How hard would it be to send these guys home so they don't starve to death or die of thirst in a shitty apartment in Kypseli where the only neighbors who even talk to them are the Americans? (unless you count Maria, the Albanian woman who screams at them because they take water from her outdoor tap.) I know Fantasy Travel can find the cheapest tickets and probably won't even ask for a comission. I would probably need an attorney, one with good values and no alterior motives like Arsinoi Lainioti, who was born the states and has taken over Dorian's duties helping immigrants and other people with international problems. She can make sure they have the papers they need to leave Greece and to be allowed back into their own country so I am not wasting money on tickets that are not being used. Knowing someone in the municiple government might be useful.

African illegal immigrationAthenians complain about the immigrant problem but what do they do about it besides complain and get mad because the government is not doing anything? If every person who had a few hundred euros to spare adopted an immigrant who only wanted to go home and bought him a ticket and helped make sure he was able to use it, much of the problem would be solved. There are many immigrants who don't want to leave and among them there are those who can and will play a positive role in Athenian society. Look at all the Africans and Albanians who have their own businesses now, or have steady jobs and have bought apartments and their children speak Greek and play with the Greek children. Walk up and down Fokionos Negri on a warm summer night and you will see hundreds of them. Go look in the schoolyards and see the African children among the Greeks, Albanians, Russians and Poles. But those immigrants who are stranded here should be helped, not just by giving them a few euros while we sit with our friends eating a meal that will cost us what they can't earn in a month. Any Greek, or foreigner in Greece who is worried about the immigrant problem should ask himself whether he wants to be part of the solution, and then find someone who wants nothing more than to go home, and help him get there.

As the Gambian was leaving my apartment with his water and the peach Andrea had bought for our breakfast, he turned around and said "God Bless You." And no matter what you believe, God has blessed me and probably you too because any of us could have been born Gambians or Nigerians or Bangladeshi and be in this situation, in a far away land, with no money, no food, and forced to ask for water from your neighbors, with no way of returning home and no prospects for a better life. Who knows? Maybe in a few years you will be in this situation. But since you aren't wouldn't you like to help someone who is? It can't be that difficult. Even in Greece.

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