By Nikos Manavis/Translation in English Areti Dimitrakopoulou
(main pic: Aris Messinis)
August 2015. All the public areas, parks and squares of Mytilini are overflowing with refugee men, women and children. Government and statal mechanisms passive observers leaving those people in need helpless, very soon after handing over hard cash to the shipping company owners who will be undertaking their transfer to the mainland. A group of fascistoid emerge out of nowhere and attack the migrants. Hoteliers of clearly far right opinions issue statements on all mass media verbally attacking the refugees and blaming them for the cease of touristic flow that was presumably eminent. At that point the Chamber of Commerce of Lesvos island holds an assembly where members of practically all sectors of business as well as as freelancers are in attendance. It is the very same crowd that a few weeks prior to the meeting were propagating for the “YES” at the Greek Referendum.
The assembly concluded that it was the refugees and migrants that were destroying Tourism, the core of the island’s economy, while they posed a health threat, α “health bomb” as they called it so much for Mytilini but for the rest of the island, as well. In effect, they were asking that refugees be left to drown as a means of cutting down the incoming flow of refugees to the island!
It was during that time that a liberal ecοnomist, a party member of New Democracy for many decades stated to a local reporter: “the refugees are beneficial to the turnover of the local businesses. Even if they purchase a single packet of cigarettes each, there is an immediate increase in turnover”. His opinion had not a single trace of leftist humanitarianism or solidarity. It was a strictly financial assesment that foresaw opportunity for new profits being created.
Three years later, there is plenty of evidence to prove that the refugee crisis has had positive effects on the economy of Lesvos, Chios and Samos respectively. Negative effects have of course existed as well but the negative effects on those local economies are extremely restricted. And if the government of SYRIZA-ANEL had not in fact played the role of the “good guy” in the game of the far right deflection to the islands they could have alleviated the problem by granting reasonable compensations to those affected.
Many apartments, houses and entire hotels have been rented out due to the refugee crisis.
800 employees are still employed today within the hellish detention center of Moria, 190 are those employed in activities funded by the Ministry of Immigration Policy based on the official replies that were voiced within the Parliament by the competent minister, D. Vitsas. If to those, one were to add the personnel working on site in Kara Tepe (a refugee settlement site controlled by the UNHCR, at PIKPA (Solidarity Lesvos NGO) and employed by numerous other ngo’s such as Iliaktida that have created and are running shelters, the total number of employees is estimated to around a total of 2000 individuals on Lesvos island alone. An equivelant number of employees is working presently both on Chios and Samos. Many among them are permanent residents of the islands but among them is a great number of persons that have moved to the island as these working position were becoming available.
The salaries that are being paid by the greek state are basic salary wages while slightly better salaries are being offered by the NGO’s-in both cases the compensation is far from satisfactory. In any case, these new jobs created have assisted in controlling the official registered levels of unemployment observed in the islands of the North Aegean.
The average number of unemployed seeking employment in 2016 was 13,260 according to the data coming from the registries of ΟΑΕΔ(Manpower Employment Organization). The relevant average of 2017 was 13,203. The guide value trend of de-escalation is maintained in 2018.
On the islands that receive refugees headquarters of ngo’s and UNHCR and numerous other national and international agents have set offices to run their operations. These have recruited a great number of employees. To these, hundreds of police officers and FRONTEX officers are added. For their housing needs, houses, hotels and entire complexes of studios have been rented out. At the same time, old basements, garages or one room apartments are housing refugees. Availability of real estate within the city center is scarce and the asking prices have risen sky high-the same applies to properties situated in the outskirts of Mytilini and even the nearby villages.
A detailed report on all this was published on the local newspaper of Lesvos, “EMPROS” by the reporter Mrs. Anthi Pazianou.
The population of the North Aegean islands in 2011 was 199,231 residents, in 2015 it was reduced to 196, 654, but then again in 2017 a rise was recorded according to the Hellinic Statistical Authority that mentions 203,700 residents accordingly.
This rise in population on the islands has resulted in the rise of overturn of the local businesses. The same source offers a view into the data relevant to the transfer of vehicles that do in fact confirm the initial estimates. During the period 2011-2014 vehicles being transferred on the sea route Peireus-Chios-Mytilini are about 125,000 annually. In 2015, there was an explosive rise to 178,560, in 2016, 187,403 respectively, while in 2017 it was at 138,639 vehicles. That in effect means that the average is at 168,200 per year which is equivelant to a rise of 34%. The rise resulted from the transport of trucks that were carrying merchandise.
Because so much on Chios as for Lesvos, national touristic flows have in fact diminished and so there is no justification for transfer of private vehicles. Refugees, employees, volunteers that come and stay on the islands have indeed helped in the rise of the turnover of most island businesses. So much so as their participation in the flourishing local economy is greater than that of the tourists even though their per capita expenses are obviously lesser in amounts. This is explained by the fact that these populations stay permanently or for lengthy in any case periods of time as opposed to the tourists that on average stay on the islands for about 9 days.
The regugees and migrants are to blame for the decline of tourism, states a far right racist myth. What is in fact true? In 2016, the islands witnessed a great decline in arrivals of charter tourists both to Lesvos and to Samos islands. Chios had in any case very few tourists over the past many years and certainly prior to the mass arrivals of refugees.
But data colleccted from the hotels present a totally different picture. Let us elaborate: Specifically the arrivals of tourists on Lesvos island on 2015 was 75,764 and in 206 they dropped to 31,161 an impressive drop of 59%. The numbers on Samos are closing in on a 40% figure. But the actually hotel bookings in N. Aegean areas dropped by 13.24% from 1.764 million to 1,530 million (data published in the Hellenic Statistical Authority registries) The void that was left by the tourists was covered by police, ngo and UNHCR personnel, by EU agents and by FRONTEX. And if in fact a certain group of far right hoteliers based on North Lesvos was not objecting angrily against all things related to the refugees all damages from the loss in tourist related arrivals would have been compensated to a great extent. During Winter of 2016-2017 hotels were being sought after to house refugees, the few hoteliers that agreed to offer their properties were openly threatened with numerous legal actions against them by the forementioned far right hotel owners.
The losses in arrivals in 2016 would have been restored by 2017 and 2018 if the local actors on Lesvos island (municipality, chamber of commerce, hoteliers etc.) had made sure to subdue any racist and fascistic actions that were steered by certain fascist and racist groups.
That is clearly being demonstrated by the case of Samos which also has a Hot Spot. It is characteristic that in 2017 a rise of 20% was recorded in the international arrivals and departures of Samos airport.
The tendency continues in 2018 as in May there is a record of 33,961 arrivals and departures from the 20,028 (sourced from the statistical data by Fraport) that had been recorded in the same period of 2017. On the contrary, on Lesvos of the racist pogrom, where the Mayor of the island states that the residents are unsafe, and the Assistant Mayor of Sanitation decides to do a passport control on the public beach…the arrivals in 2017 are lesser than 43,756 and the numbers show that in 2018 they will not be greater than 50,000.
Let us add at this point that the refugees consist a great part of the clientelle of many law offices of the islands, of the public transportation means, the super markets, the grocery stores while at the same time they offer cheap labor for farming and animal tending activities of all sorts on the islands.
The problem is not the refugees themselves but the policies that are in favor of the Capital.
We are fighting to close down the hellish detention centers such as Moria, to grant the refugees the means and permit to travel to the countries of their desired destination. And as for those that wish to reside in Greece they are more than welcome.
In that direction we are striving for the development of common battles among locals and refugees/migrants. Refugees are like us a part of the new working force, they ought to be granted full rights to emloyment, to education, to health, housing etc.
The bourgeois ideologies that point the finger to the refugees, seeking a scapegoat in them and speaking about a fabricated threat of islamization of the islands, feed Racism and Fascism while having as a greater goal to turn the different groups among the working majority against each other in order to exterminate them and to establish through the ages the domination of the upper middle class over the working class proletariate casts.
The government SYRIZA-ANEL does not drown the refugees in the sea as did the previous governments, it enforces though equally horrendous, inhumane and murderous policies. On th 22ndof April it watched the pogrom against the refugees on Sappho Square in Mytilini and did nothing to stop it. It concealed the tortures of refugees at the Police Headquarters of Lesvos after the riot that took place in Moria on the 18thof July 1917.
The impoverishment of refugees that this government enforces, sends hundreds of countless female refugees to the streets selling their bodies for a meal, forces minors and even children down the same dangerous and abusive path, leads to countless rapes of refugees and ultimately even leads to deaths due to unavailable or inadequate medical care.
The enforcement of the most recent decision of the EURO Summit will only result in the creation of a number of additional hellish detention centers, just like the one in Moria.