Letter from Samos: part 2

Part 2 of Chris Jones and Sofiane Ait Chalalet‘s open letter to Dimitri Sevastakis, the newly elected Syriza MP for Samos. Part 1 can be read here. The first part is available here.

Photo: Flickr/bluto blutarski.

Photo: Flickr/bluto blutarski.

There is much which unites people on Samos not least the love of its beauty and nature. We live in what could be a paradise. Again there is no rocket science involved here. The beauty of our island, its capacity to enchant our minds and feed our bellies has become even more crucial as the crisis has deepened. Again and again we hear people who in the most difficult of circumstances talk of how they are nourished by the beauty and splendour of our island. Many might be poor in cash terms but we also have this great treasure.

Surely we can and ought to build the future of our island around this natural wealth to the benefit of us all. We already know that Samos has an international reputation amongst walkers yet we have no island wide strategy for its development. We seem to have no obvious plan for the opening up of over grown footpaths or for the creation of a network of mountainside kalivis which could provide basic but beautiful accommodation for walkers and hikers which in turn would extend the tourist season with all the benefits which would follow. It seems obvious to us and many others on the island that our long term and sustainable future has to be ‘green’ but no one organisation appears to be prepared to take a lead. The wine co-operative in particular ought to be playing a key role and it is disappointing that it does not play any significant role in the creation of a ‘green’ Samos. Not only does the co-operative fail to encourage the kind of biological production which must be the future of wine production on the island but it remains one of the biggest suppliers of poisonous chemicals which threatens the incredibly rich flora of Samos. This is not good enough!

We face a situation where the potential of Samos is not being developed to provide the kinds of meaningful and creative employment which we so desperately need if we are to put an end to the constant haemorrhaging of talent. Samos as with Greece as a whole cannot afford to see so many people, especially the young, leaving to find their fortunes outside of the country. And lets be clear, we believe that most of those departing are doing so out of necessity and not from choice.

Finally there is one area where we must stand out clear and loud and that concerns the situation of the refugees and the fact that Samos because of its geographical location close to the Turkish coast is sure to remain one of the gateways into Europe for refugees.

We hope that you and Syriza will take a clear and unequivocal stance in condemning as completely unacceptable current Greek and European policies with regard to refugees. The closed Detention Centre in Vathi is like a poisonous tumour on the island. It shames the island and its people. It is an affront to humanity that this Guantanamo style camp exists in our midst. There is simply no justification for criminalising and punishing those who are fleeing war and terror. There is no reason at all why unaccompanied children are locked up when there are families on the island who are more than prepared to open their homes to care for such youngsters.

We need no more research to tell us that the deterrence policies of Greece and Europe will never halt the flow of refugees. Such a policy approach is not only cruel but it patently fails. But no matter, the vast bulk of resources concerning refugees goes on patrol boats, surveillance, drones, detention centres and prisons and the like. It is a form of utter madness.

Even if the policy changes needed may take time to implement there is no reason to do nothing now. Even if the camp cannot be closed today we can at least remove the locks and the barbed razor wire. Let’s open the camp. Let’s allow teachers and youth workers and all other concerned islanders to enter freely and create meaningful activities that will nourish and support those who have been traumatised and terrorised in their own countries. We have on Samos an animal care centre that has a deserved reputation for its high welfare standards. It is shameful to us that the care for refugees comes nowhere close to what a stray dog would receive in the animal sanctuary.

It is absurd for the police to be the key agency for the care of refugees. This is a task for which they are not equipped to undertake. It is a welfare not a policing issue. And again, from our own experience we are aware that many of the police who work with refugees are appalled and shamed by what they expected to do and long for a completely different and humane approach to such human suffering. They too want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

There are so many things that need attending to on Samos. Many don’t need vast additional resources to make a real difference to our lives as long as we can mobilise the talents and energies of the people. Just imagine what we could achieve if we unleashed the imagination of the people! It would be beautiful.

We could say so much more on all of the above, not in terms of setting out proposals and plans as they need to come from the people and not a few self-appointed specialists who leave the people unmoved and detached. That will lead us nowhere.

At times living on Samos feels like living in a room full of people seething with anger and frustration; full of people with wonderful ideas and plans but the door is locked. For many of us your election and that of a Syriza government feels like there might just be a chance that the door might be unlocked. We don’t expect and indeed we don’t want you to think that we are waiting on you for all the solutions. But if you can help us unlock the door so that Samos and Greece can become a garden in which a thousand flowers bloom; where the people are not abandoned and ignored but are encouraged to flourish and realise their potential then we would be dancing for joy. We look forward to working with you.

With our best wishes,

Sofiane Ait Chalalet and Chris Jones

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