Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Call to Action

photo by Giorgos Moutafis


A few weeks back I wrote a post announcing that my ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, was available for $0.99 through January 31st across every e-book platform. Just click on the link and find happiness.

That opportunity still exists, but this post in not about that. It’s about the refugee crisis on the Aegean Greek island of Lesvos at the heart of that book. Recent aggressive tactics by Turkey, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iran, and endemic antipathy in Europe toward refugees, portend a deepening refugee crisis soon to explode on Europe’s doorstep. It’s one our reputedly civilized world tries its best to ignore, but it shall not go away.

One journalist who has not ignored it is Harriet Grant. Together with photographer Giorgos Moutafis, Ms. Grant presented a series of articles this week in The Guardian detailing the intensely personal side of this human tragedy.  Here’s her article titled, “Catastrophic conditions greet refugees arriving on Lesbos.”

Harriet Grant

It’s just getting light on the north coast of Lesbos and in an olive grove by the side of the road a group of refugees are breaking up branches and feeding a fire to keep the children warm. They are a small group, 25 people, all of them from Afghanistan. They climbed out of a boat on the shore at 1.30am and lit the fire while they called for help.

Jalila is 18 and has travelled to the Greek island alone from Afghanistan. “But these people in the boat are my new family” she says cheerily. She is in good spirits, though shivering uncontrollably.

She speaks good English and is helping to translate for the coastguard. “He is just 14, yes he is on his own. Do you know anybody here in Greece? Brother? Cousin? No, he knows nobody.”

While in the UK, politicians have been debating whether the right to family reunion for child refugees should be protected during Brexit negotiations, refugee agencies on the island are warning that the increase in arrivals is becoming “unmanageable” – and that the only solution is an urgent programme to relocate thousands of the most vulnerable migrants across Europe.

Taliban activity and intense fighting is helping drive a spike in arrivals. There were more newcomers in 2019 than in the previous two years together.

“I left home because in my province the Taliban are in total control,” Jalila says. “But when I got to Kabul I nearly died in several bombing attacks. But I am lucky,” she adds. “I have open-minded family … My father told me that Europe is a great place where women can be free. I can’t wait to begin educating myself here.”

Jalila and the others on her boat are a tiny part of a growing catastrophe here on Lesbos. Every day boats arrive, bringing more and more people, but with European borders shut there is no onward movement out of the dire conditions in the official camp, Moria. From 5,000 people living there last July, there are now 19,000 people, 40% of them under 12.

Moria Camp--photo by Giorgos Moutafis

Outside Moria, thousands are now living in the surrounding olive groves. It is a shanty town of tarpaulin, rivers of rubbish and desperate people.

Theodoros Alexellis, communications coordinator for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told the Guardian that the Greek authorities do not want to keep expanding the camp.

“Since 2016, people have not been able to move forward into Europe. In 2015 people stayed a few days, now they are staying for months and the number of arrivals is unmanageable. From the Greek perspective, the local people here do not want an expansion of this camp. They want to see an urgent commitment from other European countries to help.”

Here by the fire a toddler in a pink coat, her eyes half closed with exhaustion, is shivering while her father holds her soaking wet socks over the flames to dry.

Her mother, Saber, is eight months pregnant and in severe pain after the long journey, holding her back and stomach.

The family are from Kundus province, north Afghanistan, which for the past year has been the scene of intense fighting between the US and the Taliban.

“We just want to get to the camp so we can lie down and the children can get warm,” says Saber.

The next day, the families are in despair: there was no space for them in Moria and they had to sleep outside in the olive groves.

Jalila spent the night sleeping on a path. “The relief organisation gave me a coat because there are no tents.

“It’s okay,” she says, smiling. “I met a very kind lady who let me put my bag in her tent. At least it is safer here than on my journey in Turkey. But I hope someone will come to help me, it is so cold.”

Despite being in pain, heavily-pregnant Saber did not receive any medical attention. Her family of eight was given a plastic two-man tent. “I can’t get into it because of my bump and I am in so much pain,” she says.

Feruze also arrived last night and has no shelter. Two of her children are sick and there is no medical care until Monday, two days away. Sara, who is 18 months old, cut her foot on the journey and wails in pain as Feruze takes her shoe off to show the wound seeping yellow under a dirty bandage. Her brother, Ali, is three and leans groggily on his mother. His forehead is burning. She is carrying him on her back because he can’t walk.

They are sharing a small shack with another family who have taken pity on them. “But it is very cold, from 1am, it is so cold and the children are suffering, we have no blankets for them,” says Feruze.
It is not only Afghans who are arriving here straight from war. Nearby, a group of Syrians from Idlib have clustered their tents together.

Ali was an English teacher before his city came under bombardment. “Our town, Idlib is being destroyed. There are no homes, no farms, nothing is remaining. We come because even if we risk death on the way, there is no choice.”

He has been given a date to move with his family to the mainland and cannot wait to escape. “For Syrians, this is a hell. When it rains we fear for our children’s lives, that they will die of the rain, the cold, the wind.”

photo by Giorgos Moutafis

Marco Sandrone of Médicins Sans Frontières speaks to the Guardian at the field clinic the charity runs just outside the camp. “We are seeing around 100 children a day but we are forced to prioritise because we cannot see everyone. We are extremely worried about children suffering from chronic illnesses like epilepsy, asthma, diabetes.”

He says the huge numbers involved make a mockery of arguments in the UK and elsewhere in Europe over taking small numbers of children through family reunion and other schemes.

“While European countries discuss taking a few hundred minors from the camp of Moria we are trying to look after thousands. This cannot wait. Children have to be transferred from Moria to safe places today.” 

Yes, action must be taken NOW.


Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation):

Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15, 2020 
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley
Panels yet to be announced

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
SaddleBrooke Clubhouse
40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel

Panels yet to be announced 


  1. Horrible. And the U.S. won't be helping until (at least) 2021.

    1. But the EU will be there shortly after Godot arrives.

  2. Yes, waiting for Godot is true. I didn't realize that the migrant situation in Lesvos is still in crisis mode. I think it's because it's not in the news much, at least not in the NY Times. Neither has the immigrant crisis in the U.S. at the southern border been mentioned much lately. This is awful, and it reminds me that people should donate to Doctors Without Borders and Greek people who are helping the migrants. Any suggestions?

    1. That's precisely the problem of living in TV ratings times. Massive human suffering is lost as a statistic, while journalists and their employers focus on exploiting personality clashes among predictable draws for their audiences.

      As for donations, I have a few suggestions. The Peace Corps Community for Refugees published a list of what appears to be recommended" NGOs, led off by the Starfish Foundation operating on Lesvos. Here's a link to that list.

      Another recommendation is this one from a friend: "Kayra Martinez from Love without Borders for Refugees is doing amazing work. She has an entire global art program set up with the refugees to help them earn money for themselves (organized from Greece) and she organizes donations for many of the camps with supplies they need of all sorts. We will actually do a program together at the Lavrio camp with my animal organization in February or March. Kayra is extremely professional and serious for her works. She has had the privilege to be invited for TedX talks, etc. Her website is"

  3. Both sound promising, and I like the title Love without Borders for Refugees. And she helps them earn money.
    Meanwhile, I'm reading about a right-wing mayor in Athens going after refugee encampments. These poor people. Where can they go?

    1. Happy to help out Kathy. If the piece you're reading is from the current New Yorker, I feel obliged to point out that my second Kaldis book —Assassins of Athens— focused on Exarchia, and An Aegean April (currently a Kindle Monthly Deal at $0.99) has the refugee/migrant crisis at its heart. Based upon my personal experience I respectfully hold a more nuanced perspective than does the author of what you're reading. As for the bottom line plight of the refugees, no argument there, but it's the EU that deserves the lion's share of the blame...for it treats Greece as its refugee filter trap.

  4. The EU is a complete failure on this global crisis. And a lot of right-wing governments are just keeping out im/migrants altogether.
    There is a good novel from Germany called "Go, Went, Gone" about migrants there. Incredibly sad.
    The government in Washington is harming migrants with the bans on Muslims (more to come) and the denial of refugees at the Southern border, detentions, caging of children.
    What would my grandparents, fleeing anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia-occupied Poland in the early 1900s, have done if the U.S. shut its doors on them?