The perils ahead of African migrants trying to get to the green continent across the Mediterranean make the headlines every now and then. Deadly shipwreck claims thousands of lives every year and perishes many of those would-be who throw cautions to the wind in search of a better and brighter life in Europe. Each journey they embark on could be a journey of no return. Tragedy always lies in ambush. The increasing numbers making the perilous journey on overloaded boats has brought the issue of migration into Europe to a head. But what can be done about it? One Italian official has said that the sea is becoming a graveyard for migrants. This often overlooked scandal is only getting worse. Wars in Africa and the Middle East have massively increased the number of migrants trying to get to Europe. And with the lawlessness of Libya and much of Syria, largely brought on by Western support for war, the situation has become a human tragedy. Are European authorities doing enough to save the lives of migrants? And how are the migrants being treated when they arrive in Europe?
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: Thousands of migrants have already drowned trying to make it to Europe this year.
SOUNDBITE [English] Johnny Miller, Host: “Everyday hundreds of migrants like this are arrived in this Island and this is just the one of many islands allowed the Mediterranean.”
Narration: On this week’s In focus, we document one of the world’s major humanitarian crisis. And ask whether there is any solution.
SOUNDBITE [English] Anonymous Migrant: “You, yourself (Are) at risk and people understand them but what can they do, you know? They try to find good future, Very dangerous very risky like a gamble game.”
Narration: The Greek island of Lesbos. Today, a Christian festival is taking place celebrating the life of a saint. Local residents and tourists mingle as they watch the procession pass. The island, like most Greek islands is popular with Europeans looking for sun. But as night descends, others are attracted to the island as well.
SOUNDBITE [English] Johnny Miller, Host: “We are at Molyvos, small town at the North of Lesbos, you see Turkey just over the water so it can be hour by boat from here , you have been told every night migrants arrive here in this port so waiting to see if to do ever.”
Narration: We get a tip off that some refugees have been brought in by the Greek coast guard. Next to the pier, we find them. About 30, mostly from Syria. They’ve been on European soil for less than an hour.
VOX POP [English] Syrian Man:
“_ How do you feel now?
-I feel very cold and I feel happy because now I can work, I can do everything.
_Live and the freedom”
Narration: The man takes us along the pier to show us the boat they were brought in on. 30 people on this small dingy, nick named by most migrants we spoke to as, balloons. Other balloons, were there too…. Tomorrow night more will come. He shows us where they came from.
VOX POP [English] Syrian Man:
“_This is Turkey, these came from Turkey
-How long does it take?
_40 minutes to 1 hour.”
Narration: Even in the dark it is easy to make out the Turkish coast line. It’s easy to see why Lesbos and other Greek islands are fast becoming the most popular way into to Europe. These migrants will sleep here on the pier tonight and continue their journey in the morning.
SOUNDBITE [English] Johnny Miller, Host: “Most of the migrant didn’t want to speak to camera , they were very scared , one in particular (Which) was very observed, angry wanted to tell us that the coast guard , he said, abused them, shouted at them, swear them, beep them and crucially also tried to pull the boat back to Turkey rather than went them to Greece , they cannot verified these allegations but they are allegations how we heard before .”
Narration: The next day we went to see the Mayor of Lesbos. I put to him the allegations I had heard from the refugees.
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Spoyros Galinos, Mayor of Lesbos: “I don’t believe that such phenomena exist. There may be some kind of misunderstandings, you know. I repeat that these people are trying to save human lives and they do not prevent migrants entering the country. If something bad happened, the only thing I can do is express my disgust, not only mine but of the Lesvos community as a whole.”
Narration: For the Mayor, like the authorities on numerous Mediterranean islands of Greece and Italy, the migrant problem is now their most pressing worry.
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Spoyros Galinos, Mayor of Lesbos: “Currently, it is one of the most important problems we are faced with because over recent times we have been met with an invasion of misery, from miserable and hunted people, people who are taken advantage of by smuggling networks which take advantage of all this pain. A lot of money is involved and they do not hesitate to put human lives at risk.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: At one of Lesbos’s refugee camps we spoke to another migrant who didn’t want his face to be shown.
SOUNDBITE [English] Anonymous Migrant: “Journey for me was one hour, some people six hours, some people never go back and never reach the Greece. You, yourself (Are) at risk and people understand them but what can they do, you know? They try to find good future, Very dangerous very risky it is like a gamble game.”
Narration: Thousands of migrants die each year, mainly trying to cross from Libya to Italy. This year, the problem has exploded. Thousands already have drowned. Hardly a week goes by without another tragedy hitting the news.
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: “The Majority of migrants and refugees, so we have about 70 percent of Syrian refugees and all the others are potential refugees I mean from counties such as Palestine, Somalia so whether coming because there is no hope in their country, so why they are come to Greece because Greece is wealthy so it is pleasant.”
Narration: Every one of the migrants we spoke to in Greece was coming from countries currently experiencing war. In some countries, like Syria and Libya, much of the society has completely broken down.
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: ‘There is a pick of the refugees flow the fact is the majority of Syrians who well take away from the war to finish in Syria this is now, they are hapless so they decide to leave there to take care .”
Narration: The Greek coast guard returning to port after another busy night. Like every morning the boat is packed full of refugees.
SOUNDBITE [English] Johnny Miller, Host: “Everyday hundreds of migrants like this arrived on this Island; it is just one of many Islands throughout Mediterranean.”
Narration: Inside the port we hear their stories. Seeing so many people being forced to board such a small boat this man refused to get on. The smugglers beat him until he agreed.
SOUNDBITE [English] Anonymous Migrant: “When you go inside, we surprised, the machine is not good or there is no driver or so during the night time you can see nothing and they use guns if you refuse to go inside balloon
-Inside the boat?
SOUNDBITE [English] Iraqi Migrant: “What happened?
-It was like a movie you know, it was unbelievable. We met Turkish ship so they told us, Stop stop, we said “ No Please we have children..just don’t do anything.. and they have really big ship.”
Narration: These migrants are the lucky ones. They will spend the day at this port waiting until they are taken to a specially built refugee camp.
Narration: It’s morning back in Molyvos, the small town in the north of Lesvos, where we spoke to migrants the night before. The harbour is full of restaurants making ready for the days tourists. Fisherman ready themselves to head out to sea. Meanwhile, the migrants who have tried to sleep on the pier are now being looked after.
SOUNDBITE [English] Melinda, Restaurant Owner: “When we came to the port here we set the first restaurant and they all come in and asked for water and they asked for things and lots of people actually contributed , even stuffs and I made them some tea because usually they were freezing cold in the winter because they usually were wet.”
Narration: The refugees receive no help from the state when they land. It is up to local people like Melinda, to offer charity. I put to the Mayor, that surely the state should be looking after the migrants as they land.
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Spoyros Galinos, Mayor of Lesbos: “The local community and we, as the local authorities try to do our best. Let me tell you that 3 days ago, we had a record number of arrivals. About 600 people came. We were all mobilized from 6am that morning. They were coming from every possible place throughout the island, not just from a one place. We made an appeal for volunteers. The migrants who came were in essence shipwrecked, in wet, shabby clothes. The weather conditionwere not as good as they are today, it was cold and rainy.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
VOX POP[English] Melinda, Restaurant Owner:
“And How local people feel about this?
-They don’t like it. They are also against what I am doing .
-Yeah . A lot of them.
- I have heard they are saying that , it is going around the tourism, they don’t want this people to be here when the shops are full for lunch because they think it is really bad for tourism and just they don’t like it .
- They would come any way ?
-Yes , I Know it s crazy.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: “I think then Europeans must understand whether they like or they don’t like to do this way, as long as the world is like that as long as there is a circular huge mentally crisis it is a catastroph, in the south and north which we actually we talk about situation of geopolitical case which starts from the West side of the …form the North of Indian to the banks of Mediterranean , I consider space in which they are suffered, in south of Africa then they may normally , logically we should expect that, these flows will be here.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Melinda, Restaurant Owner: “Well yesterday somebody said to me sooner be taking us with them.
-What does it mean?
- I Have no Idea. I mean I was tons here yesterday 2000 maybe, it was pretty full.”
Narration: We wandered along the sea front to chat with one of the local restaurant owners. We were invited us to sit with one of them and his friend.
SOUNDBITE [English] Stratis, Restaurant Owner: “So this is not nice for them but we don’t think so and Greece is a country can take all this because they are like waves it is coming to Greece, it is not the rich country to invite the people here. That ‘s why..
And is it brought the business?
This we will see at the end of the season, now we don’t know, the tourist people ask me always , what is this people ? Always they ask me, like they don’t know nothing or they don’t like to know nothing , they know what is this and they what they like to do…always they ask me, this for me makes me tired to give always answer what is this people ?”
Narration: To answer the question some passing tourists were invited to join us as well.
SOUNDBITE [English] Tourist: “ It is difficult things that feeling embarrassed because you know you are worried and it is not something you want to see in holiday so that could means few people come here because they don’t like to be confronted with this problem they want to close their eyes so yes tourist not...”
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic for Human Rights: “European citizens should understand that, this is a part of the reality in future and that is what I see as title of all this and that is how we must start, this is how we would live so we might be unhappy, understand it, this but it i better to think of some solutions instead of share in spreading our feelings and our happiness.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Tourist: “It is not something we can close our eye to that ...to you and here it is our own doorstep but it doesn’t be known as our doorstep so we have to live with it but how I have no idea.”
Narration: For years, The European Union has had a policy of broadly trying to stop refugees from coming. With 20 times more refugees coming in 2015 than in 2014 this policy has failed.
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: “First idea here is they close the borders it means you keep beep. It close the Mediterranean either you kill people either you facing failure of closing of something which cannot be closed.”
Narration: The most recent plan by the EU is to target the smugglers. Plans have even been drawn up to launch airstrikes on smugglers boats in Libya.
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: “The European Union in last 7-8 years has considered, has been elaborating immigration management policy based on militarization of borders , security and if they would make lives more difficult supposing they would not come , that is frailer because the life is such a mess in their places of which everybody would come .”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
Narration: Even though EU policies seem not to be stopping the flow, on the streets of European cities it’s not hard to figure out one reason why governments are keen to be seen to be taking a hard line. In Athens, we had a meeting at the Greek Parliament.
SOUNDBITE [English] ME: “It looks like a familiar symbol, you know the symbol I’m thinking about….”
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Fotis Graikos, Member of Greek Parliament : “That’s something that the mass media in Greece managed to do. They constantly showed this symbol and they said it’s a swastika and stuff like that, in order to associate us with Nazism. In reality, we have nothing to do with Nazism. Besides, our political ancestors were the ones who fought against both Mussolini and Hitler.”
Narration: Meet Golden Dawn, Greece’s far right, anti immigrant party. They now have 18 seats in the parliament. Across Europe, scared of runaway immigration, millions are turning to the far right.
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Fotis Graikos, Member of Greek Parliament: “A big number of Syrian migrants are not Syrian refugees who leave their country because of the war. They are actually potential jihadists.
I have seen and talked to Syrians at a train station in Greece. They were people of a physical profile totally different from the ones we are used to. They were well-built , bulky, with a beard and of frightening appearance.
Q: So there were some refugees with beards?
I’m not talking about the beards; I’m talking about their general appearance. They had a much wider appearance than the usual migrants. They did not look like people who had undergone hardships. They looked like people of a very wild appearance, what I say is quite specific. The difference was obvious.
Q: So most refugees don’t have a beard then?
We’re lost in translation here, you misunderstood me, I didn’t say that.”
Narration: Meanwhile, every night more migrants land on Lesbos. And every night, Zoe, an aid worker is the only person looking after them on the streets of Mytilene, the largest town on the Island. Next to the harbour she hands out clothes to those most in need.
VOX POP [English] A man , Refugee: “Here I sleep, before and after I sleep here now I should be careful of my family , I can t sleep I should looking after them (Because) maybe some dogs and animals come.
-So you should be careful.
VOXPOP (English) Zoi Livaditou of Hellenic Rescue Team: “Ok Don’t give your money to anyone, because there are a lot of smugglers they take your money , they don’t care about the life of your children, they don’t care about anything.”
Narration: These migrants have been processed by the authorities. Tomorrow they will get the ferry, legally to Athens. And from there, they will try to find more smugglers to take them on the next leg of their journey to Germany, Sweden or England.
VOXPOP (English) Zoi Livaditou of Hellenic Rescue Team: _ Do you think that European Government have enough help?
-I think it is a bit hard to control it because if you see an Italian in one day, there are 3700 migrants from Libya, Greece the same problem , Lesbos now is everyday full more than 500 migrants everyday so who can all together control it ?I don’t know a way , I am not political , I am not in the government so…”
Narration: A camp for processing migrants. Here they will receive papers to allow them to travel in Europe for a short time.
SOUNDBITE [English] Johnny Miller, Host: “Couple of days ago we came to this camp and this whole section here we are driving past is completely empty, now a couple of days later it’s packed full of migrants , why ? during last few days numbers forces to open this section.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
Narration: The camp is secure and it looks clean. We tried to film inside but told we were not allowed. Many of the migrants asked us for help.
SOUNDBITE [English] Migrants: “We want some water… etc”
Narration: Before we were told to leave we were able to speak to some of the migrants. They say the conditions are bad with little water and nothing to wash with. I put these complaints to the Mayor.
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Spoyros Galinos, Mayor of Lesbos: “All Europeans must realise that we are trying to face the problem on our own, without any support. It is too much for us. If you take into account that this island has a population of 80,000 people, think of how many people it can accommodate. Think how hard it is for us to provide these migrants with proper infrastructure. We couldn’t have foreseen this problem. The building we constructed is for 800 people. How many more can we take? And how many other buildings can we build? And OK, if only we could afford to build bigger buildings but unless we have the support of the EU, we won’t be able to afford it.”
VOXPOP [English] Melinda, Restaurant Owner: “Do you have a massage for European Government? European People? You are the first person who see when they come to Europe?’ Is there here enough job?
-I think Europeans got very worried because of acts recently happened but this problem isn’t just now, it has been for years, it has became more massive at the moment but this problem I have been Involved with over 5 years so there is no hope , lots of people complain and say well we can’t , they can’t come in England they cannot come to France but what would you do if we are in a war situation and you know you are going to die. My problem is the restaurant can’t be open in couple of days and I don’t know if I can find the time .”
SOUNDBITE [English] Stratis, Restaurant Owner: “This ladies may open their restaurant in few days.
- What’s gonna happen then?
- they must do something, the state , the Europe must do something.”
SOUNDBITE [Greek] Spoyros Galinos, Mayor of Lesbos: “These people don’t come here on vacation. They come to save themselves and maybe, find a better future for their children. Consequently, European policies must be aimed at the reception of migrants but also their assimilation which includes work as well. As you understand, the Greece of crisis, the Greece of the millions of unemployed, cannot deal with this problem alone.”
Narration: Meanwhile, while European government’s dither on new policies in the Mediterranean, thousands more people will die in the coming months. Tens of thousands more will successfully make the journey. Here, migrants, happy, are getting the ferry to Athens. They’ve made it to Europe. Now, they head onwards to look for a new home.
SOUNDBITE [English] Dmitris Christopulous, Former President of Hellenic For Human Rights: “We have to live with the problem as I told you, so we cannot solve the problem, that is why I am telling you, there is no much more solution for control.”
VOXPOP [English] Zoi Livaditou of Hellenic Rescue Team:
“Is there solution?
-No? What do you mean no?
-What is the solution ?Can you tell me? Do you have an Idea for the solution?”