The emigrants are waiting at the door
5 December 2008
The picturesque capital of the Greek Peloponnese, an enormous port that has served as a “gate to Europe” for centuries. The house of many Greeks, Albanians and Nigerians. A city that houses 14 consulates of various countries and struggle with a problem of illegal emigrants. There is no better place to talk about refugees.

From 27th to 28th of November, journalists, employees of municipal councils, and the representatives of the Council of Europe - altogether 60 people representing 12 cities taking part in the Intercultural Cities program – came to Partas to take part in a conference.
We spent that time on watching shocking movies, on discussions, posing questions and looking for answers. And what conclusions have we reached? None of the countries is waiting for emigrants, but they will come anyway. We can pretend that it is not our problem, that it is hidden somewhere far behind a barbed wire of the refugee center, but we cannot escape from it. Migrants are constituting more and more significant part among the inhabitants of European cities.

30 years of doing nothing.
Partas has known this problem for some time now. For 30 years respective institutions have been “taking care” of those who were lucky and wealthy enough to make it to the coast.
“Throughout those years they were not treated too well. Now it is changing, although there are still people who think there should be no emigrants in Patras,” said Panos Sombolos, the president of ESHEA.
“Why we still have no idea what to do? Why there are no solutions?” asked Constantinos Mangis, the publisher of a daily “Peleponnisos.” He added: “It’s because we have not discussed this problem for years. Afghans have been arriving and we have not done a single thing.”
Stratus Balaskas, the correspondent of a famous Athenian daily, screened a movie. We were watching an amateur video for a few minutes and it showed a family of refugees that was trying to get to Europe with the help of smugglers.
Really scared, they hugged each other, cringed on the board of a motorboat. A pontoon was tied to the board – in case something went wrong and they had to get rid of passengers.
The family was heading for Lesbos. The statistics of the island are terrifying.
“300 hundred emigrants per day, 12,000 in the last ten months and each of them pays 3,000 Euro to the smugglers” said Balaskas. He also showed some pictures: beaches full of wreckages of boats and pontoons, old factory transformed into host center, with one toilet for a few hundreds of people and the employees wearing masks on their faces, fields transformed into graveyards of anonymous graves.

Not enough? Every interested person could visit the refugee camp in Patra. It was not a nice trip. The government was heavily criticized after we came back.

Milica Pesic from Media Diversity Institute asked “Why do you allow for something like this to happen? There is a hotbed of diseases right in the middle of the city. We have some journalists from Lublin here. Ask them how they do it there. The refugees are treated like humans.”

To talk (and write) or to remain silent?
We touched the theme of local media many times. We repeatedly posed a question on the role they play or should play. We had long discussions on what words to use when writing about emigrants, and what terms to avoid. We wondered if we can say “a Gypsy robbed the store” or maybe better “a twenty-year-old man broke into a grocery store?” We could draw endless examples from real life.

Karyn Bennett-Lund is an Afro-American from New York. She has lived in Oslo for a few years. She has her own program on Norwegian TV – a kind of a talk show where she touches upon various controversial subjects.
“People judge you by the color of your skin, your clothes, or your beliefs. It happens sometimes, that people congratulate me on my program ‘although I’m not from here,’” said Karyn.

A Swedish journalist showed a project she had been working on for a few years, namely a few dozen of reports (few thousand signs each). Each of them dealt with an emigrant coming from a different place. The publications were accompanied by short programs broadcast on the local radio and a photo exhibition. Then everything was published as a nice book.

Berliner Zeitung used to have an insert – a few pages in Turkish.

Paris, where a few years ago during riots cars were burning in the suburbs, launched a kind of blog, It is a place where journalists, experts, and the most interested group – emigrants disappointed with their lives in the “promised land” – could express their opinions. Blog remained popular and the conflicts were eased.

Also the representatives of our eastern neighbors – from Melitopol in Ukraine and Izhevsk in Russian Federation had their day. And their position on emigration turned out to be so different. Izhevsk is a home for representatives of 132 nationalities. They organize festivals, concerts, fests together and cultivate national traditions and customs in the local cultural center. What an idyll.


Agnieszka Mazuś
Dziennik Wschodni
2008-12-05

Intercultural Cities