The small isle of Ti­los ex­tends an in­vi­ta­tion to refugee fam­i­lies

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY IOANNA FOTIADI

“Bring us refugees. We have enough space to host them.” Panayi­o­tis Nikos, di­rec­tor of the Greek first re­cep­tion ser­vice for mi­grants, could not be­lieve his ears when the mayor of Ti­los made her pro­posal.

“This in­vi­ta­tion is mainly for fam­i­lies that have ap­plied for asy­lum in Greece,” Mayor Maria Kama-Alif­eri told Kathimerini, adding, “I have in­formed all the rel­e­vant author­i­ties.”

Ti­los, a small is­land in the south­east­ern Aegean, is not a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for traf­fick­ers ship­ping mi­grants and refugees from the Turk­ish coast to Greece. What boats do ar­rive on its shores usu­ally do so by ac­ci­dent or when traf­fick­ers try to evade the coast guard pa­trols around the big­ger is­lands.

“From late 2013 un­til 2014, about 3,000 peo­ple ar­rived here,” said the mayor of the is­land, which has 780 per­ma­nent res­i­dents. In 2015 the in­flow eased slightly, though in July Ti­los saw 687 ar­rivals, in sharp con­trast with is­lands such as Lesvos, which see thou­sands of ar­rivals a day.

The is­land was sur­prised by its first wave of refugees and mi­grants last year but its re­ac­tion was im­me­di­ate.

“Any­one who had a boat would sail out and look for boats that needed as­sis­tance. El­derly women rushed to buy baby for­mula and vol­un­teers cooked up meals in the huge pots used for church feasts. We opened up the Monastery of Panaghia Poli­tissa, as well as the is­land’s ho­tels to the refugees,” said Kama-Alif­eri.

Many were taken into peo­ple’s homes. “How can you al­low an in­fant of 20 days old to sleep out­side?” she pon­dered in dis­be­lief.

Find­ing so­lu­tions in the win­ter was rel­a­tively easy, but it be­came ex­po­nen­tially harder in the sum­mer months, when the is­land pop­u­la­tion swells to an av­er­age of 2,500 peo­ple due to the ar­rival of tourists or lo­cals re­turn­ing for the hol­i­days.

The mayor is look­ing for a long-term so­lu­tion that will work all year round and is in talks with the rel­e­vant author­i­ties to open a model cen­ter of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid on a plot of land that has been ceded to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity by its own­ers. For the time be­ing, an aban­doned mil­i­tary camp that be­longs to the is­land’s metropoli­tan church has been fit­ted with show­ers, toi­lets, so­lar wa­ter heaters and a laun­dry room, and can ac­com­mo­date up to 100 in­di­vid­u­als at a time. The is­lan­ders also make fre­quent food do­na­tions.

Mean­while, Kama-Alif­eri has also man­aged to se­cure fund­ing from the Sol­i­dar­ity Now net­work so the is­land can pur­chase a bus and an off-road ve­hi­cle to col­lect refugees land­ing on its shores, as well as first-aid kits. The fund­ing will also al­low it to hire the staff needed to run the re­cep­tion cen­ter.

“The is­land has ben­e­fited from this sit­u­a­tion,” she says. “We al­ways felt that we kept get­ting the short end of the stick be­cause we didn’t have a doc­tor, a teacher or a lot of other ser­vices and ac­tiv­i­ties en­joyed by other is­lands. But when we see peo­ple fac­ing such dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, we re­al­ize that life is the ul­ti­mate gift.”

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