Wish You Were Here

at

athens

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From top: A room for refugees at a shelter in an abandoned government building in Athens, Greece; Dr Julien Mercille

In Athens, Greece the author visits a shelter for refugees displaced by conflicts in the Middle East.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

There are currently 53,000 refugees stuck in Greece, but you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look for them.

So I decided while in Athens this week to see what the current situation was.

I heard about a volunteer-run project in the city providing accommodation for refugees and made my way there to check it out.

When I get there, two or three Afghan and Syrian families are at the reception desk and want to check in. The place is  a makeshift hotel in a former government building.

The hotel’s receptionist is a middle-aged woman of the authoritarian, don’t-mess-with-me type, who constantly looks at you over her glasses. She communicates with the migrants through a younger female Middle Eastern volunteer who translates whatever goes on in the lobby.

The atmosphere is a bit chaotic but gives a good idea of how difficult it is to deal with a massive influx of refugees.

One Afghan family of eight (or two families of four, I’m not sure) is asking for a room. The receptionist is trying all possible combinations on the large spreadsheet on her desk.

“Room C6? No, there’s too many Syrians in that one. Room D11? No, there’s already three babies in there and only one mattress. Room B9? No, the Afghans there are already taking up all the space.”

The translator asks, “What about C6?”

“No, I told you—it’s full of Syrians in there!” replies the receptionist.

“What about B9 with the Afghans?”

“No, it’s too crowded, I just told you!”

The receptionist loses it easily, but they eventually find a room. Everybody is relieved.

Next is a Syrian couple.

The receptionist lets them know that they’re now full for tonight and that there are no rooms left. But the Syrians are determined and proceed to go down the list of progressively crappier options.

“Can we get a tent then?”

“No, the tents are all occupied for tonight”.

“Can we get the couch so?”

“No, the couch is already full for tonight”. I wonder how many people they can really pile up on that couch anyway.

“Can we get sleeping bags and sleep on the floor?”

The exasperated receptionist calls a volunteer who, a few minutes later, comes back miraculously with two sleeping bags. Sorted.

It’s now my turn. The receptionist is now in a sensitive state, and I’m suddenly reminded that it’s not only Broadsheet commenters who don’t like me.

I say I’m a journalist and I’m here to have a look around. Her reaction is instantaneous: “Journalists, no way! You have to leave! No journalists inside, the mass media is bad!”

I tell her not to worry, I write for Ireland’s least read mainstream publication,

It doesn’t work.

“Journalists are not allowed in, they have hurt what we do.”

I’m asked to leave without knowing what journalists have written about the place. I wonder if they insinuated there were terrorists in the place, or drugs, or something else. It could be any of those things. But if one needed an example of how low people’s trust in the media has sunk, regarding refugees or anything else, this is it.

As I walk back to my hotel I decide to go through the Parliament’s park for a change of scenery.

I see a few people walking their dogs and their weasels. Yes, weasels.

A weasel walker explains that there is a weasel party organised in the park today.

Life goes on in Athens.

Julien Mercille specialises in US foreign policy and terrorism and is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille

Top pic: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera

29 thoughts on “Wish You Were Here

    1. J

      @Rotide . Can I play the hotel receptionist? Granted, I am not middle aged but I can roll my eyes and would convincingly hiss “Journalist, no way”

  1. mildred st. meadowlark

    That was surprisingly tongue-in-cheek, Mr Mercille. I enjoyed the change in tone. It suits you.

    Still, good job on continuing to highlight the situation in Greece.

    1. rotide

      Highlighting the fact that everyone hates their government? That there’s strikes every 10 seconds because of them?

      1. mildred st. meadowlark

        Sorry ro, I should clarify. Broadsheet have done a great job on continuing to highlight the situation in Greece, with frequent articles in the subject.

        But to be fair to Julian, today’s piece was refreshingly free from hysteria and a better read than usual for it. The sense of humour helps too.

  2. Harry Molloy

    well there’s no point in me offering an objective opinion to any of these pieces as it is surely driven by jealousy of his good looks.

  3. Owen C

    “It’s now my turn. The receptionist is now in a sensitive state, and I’m suddenly reminded that it’s not only Broadsheet commenters who don’t like me.

    I say I’m a journalist and I’m here to have a look around. Her reaction is instantaneous: “Journalists, no way! You have to leave! No journalists inside, the mass media is bad!”

    I tell her not to worry, I write for Ireland’s least read mainstream publication”

    There is a serious bang of Walter Mitty about him.

    1. B Hewson

      Maybe the other journalists wrote that some of the refugees are migrants? I feel genuinely really sorry for the Syrian families and what they have been through.
      The vast majority of the others are illegal migrants without Visas. Did he ask how many of them had registered for asylum in Greece and agreed to finger prints being taken.

      Meanwhile in Paris…Imagine 1,000 migrants setting in camp Pearse station and destroying the place. I wonder what Julian and his open border’s people make of this and I’m sure he can explain it’s ‘our’ fault, as usual?
      http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/world-economy/shocking-video-shows-hundreds-of-migrants-brawling-as-paris-metro-station-trashed/news-story/791a19624d67744d36d09e45b8876ee3

    2. phil

      @Owen: A Non sequitur (Latin for “it does not follow”), in formal logic, is an argument with a conclusion that does not follow from its premises.

  4. Liam Deliverance

    A weasel party?!, If we had of formed a government by now that could have been a nice little junket for some of the weasels in Leinster House. I can just see Joan Burton leading Alan Kelly around Athens on a lead!

  5. Declan

    When did he become a specialist in US foreign policy and terrorism. I thought he wrote books on the media and “progressive” stuff

      1. Owen C

        He pretends to be an expert in economics too, so pretending to be a journalist fits with basic set up.

  6. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

    If there’s one I’ve learned from reading ‘Ireland’s least read mainstream publication it’s this;
    Never write a piece for Broadsheet. It’s not worth it for the abuse you get.

  7. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

    You did it again!!!!!

    If you’re referring to me leaving out a word then yes, I’m guilty. I’ll put my hand up.

    On the other hand, if it’s what I think you mean, that you’ve I’ve killed what was a lively discussion, then yes. I’m guilty of that too, but it’s out of my hands.
    I don’t mean to scare anybody.
    I can’t help it.

    1. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

      You’re very abusive, you know that!!!!!
      First you call them all idiots, then you call them all scaredy-cats.

      You’re forgetting, some of them have no sense of humour.

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