The Island of All Together, Or Not
Arriving at Lesbos. Photo by Picture Alliance/ Scanpix Denma. On front, photo by Yannis Behrakis//REUTER
Unimaginably, the crisis facing up to 50,000 refugees, stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos in what aid groups charge have become detention facilities, just got worse. Even as flimsy boats packed with frantic refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan keep coming - from a couple hundred to up to 1,500 a day - a controversial deal with the EU aimed at stemming the flow to mainland Europe will now force them to return to Turkey. Under last week's deal, for every Syrian deported to Turkey, the EU will resettle one from a Turkish refugee camp; the goal is for 6,000 relocations to be completed within the next month, and 20,000 by mid-May. For those remaining or arriving in Greece after March 20, they will be held under police guard in what are basically prisons until they can be removed.
Both refugees and groups helping them have decried the deal, saying it reflects a growing callousness - cue Australia's new $6 million propaganda film urging Afghans to stay home - on the part of many Western countries. Critics of the EU deal say Turkey's dismal refugee camps constitute just another prison for those seeking to make new lives or rejoin family members already in Europe; there are also reports that Afghans returned to Turkey have been forcibly deported back to Afghanistan, where their lives are in danger. In response to the deal, several major aid groups have stopped or curtailed their services, thus making the crisis in so-called hot spots - main camps on the island of Lesbos where new arrivals are first processed - even worse.
The UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council all halted at least some logistical programs to protest what they view as a system of detention and deportation, though most are continuing to provide first aid, sea rescue, mobile clinics and other protections of rights outside the camps. "Continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane,” said a MSF spokesperson. “We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation."
In the face of what they see as a growing systemic brutality toward what are in fact suffering individuals, a Dutch couple have released "The Island of All Together," a short film in which pairs of Europeans visiting Lesbos and refugees both sit down for a sometimes awkward, often revealing, invariably poignant conversation. The filmmakers argue their modest "ode to humanism" seeks, "without being in denial of the daily news, to add a nuance (to) news reports...to make the world a little smaller." No one is "the other" here, they are saying: "It shows what happens when we take time to sit down and talk with each other instead of about each other. "