Saturday, March 7, 2020

It's Time to P-A-R-T-Y!


Not really, unless you’re a fawning, fanatic, faithful fan of fiddling Emperor Nero’s approach to crises. But even if you are, with so many catastrophes, looming and realized to choose from, the question is where to begin. 

Front and center in the world’s mind this week is, of course, Covid-19 and its implications for our planet. But there’s no reason for me to address that as my blogmate, Caro Ramsay, yesterday posted as poignant an essay on what it means at the person-to-person level as anything I’ve ever read.

Bravo, Caro.

Between the coronavirus and US Presidential Primary elections, and its attendant political machinations and shenanigans, there’s very little else breaking into the American news cycle.  Except, of course, for the ever more common horrendous natural disasters, chronic confrontations involving Syria, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and—lest we forget—Afghanistan, plus, of course, screenings of that updated version of Bill Murray’s classic Groundhog Day film, now titled “Israeli National Elections.”

As I see it, this week is good time to focus on the Eastern Mediterranean basin, a perpetual source of intrigue and conflict. Turkey is aggressively back to its old tricks of provoking military (and diplomatic) confrontation with Greece in an effort to deflect domestic attention away from its many self-generated problems—not the least of which is the “mini-war” it started with Syria and Russia. 

Having stepped on a land mine of its own planting along its border with Syria, Turkey has turned up the pressure on the EU to step in and save it from its miscalculation, by encouraging refugees to flood across its borders with Greece, and then blaming Greece and the EU for the consequences.  

Sort of like the jumpmaster who pushes you of a plane without a parachute and blames the landing zone for the splat.

That’s not meant to be humorous. What’s happening to refugees fleeing into Greece is a human disaster not just for them, but for the West and its values.

A few weeks back I wrote an essay I intended to publish here on what I saw as the looming refugee disaster there, but instead I submitted it to “The Strand Magazine.”  The day after I submitted the article, the region went BOOM, which may explain why The Strand titled the piece, “Musings From Cassandra: Could the West Have Anticipated This Crisis?”

For those of you who haven’t seen the article, here it is—though subscribing to The Strand Magazine would be a much appreciated gesture:

Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying, “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”  Today he might say, “The death of one Iranian General sucks up the headlines, leaving millions to suffer the consequences in anonymity.” 
Continuing aggressive tactics by Turkey, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iran, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan, and endemic antipathy in Europe toward refugees, portend a deepening crisis about to explode on Europe’s doorstep. It’s one that most of the world chooses to ignore, but it shall not go away.

We seem ill-equipped to process so much suffering and death other than as a blur, yet in a single death we see the potential end of our own existence. Perhaps that explains why innocents fleeing a frightening world not of their making inevitably find themselves subconsciously dismissed from popular attention behind the collective label “refugees.”

Whatever the explanation, we’re on the verge of an escalating refugee crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean basin of the sort that’s fueled brash nationalism and brought down European governments.  Some consider it the severest challenge confronting the West, while for others it’s a political hot potato they dare not touch.  May God have mercy on our souls should COVID-19 or its like reach the camps.

I began thinking seriously about all of this when Greece became ground zero for the refugee crisis, because it’s where I live, have called home for thirty-five years, and utilize the fast-paced mystery thriller format to address cutting-edge political and societal issues confronting contemporary Greece.

About a decade ago I described Greece as “the European Union’s immigration filter trap.” In 2015, amid Greece’s financial crisis, that trap was overwhelmed. Within a matter of months, more that 600,000 refugees fleeing the terrors of their homelands (mainly Syria), flooded across treacherous seas from Turkey to the northeastern Aegean Greek island of Lesvos. 

Six-hundred-thousand is seven times Lesvos’ population.  That’s the equivalent of more than 60 million people landing by boat in New York City or 28 million in Los Angeles. Another 400,000 refugees found their way into Greece along other routes, bringing the total number of refugees descending upon Greece in less than a year to one million, or nearly ten percent of Greece’s population, virtually all hoping to make it to northern Europe.

If ever a crisis called for a united EU response this was it.  Instead, the EU did little more than confirm Greece as its de facto primary refugee filter trap, holding pen, relocation center, hotspot, or whatever other euphemism one wishes to use for concentration camp.

When governments cannot get their acts together, profiteers take advantage. In this instance, refugee trafficking became a multi-billion-euro industry in Turkey. The smugglers, their sex- and labor-trafficking colleagues, ancillary businesses, and, of course, their protectors, all became very rich.

It struck me as sheer madness to blindly adhere to practices that engendered anger, resentment, and distrust across generations of souls soon to be part of Western society.  For no matter what Western governments might wish, refugees would continue coming, risking death if necessary, as long as they faced worse horrors in their homelands.

As an author writing on the edge of societal change, I knew this was a story I had to tell. But how?

My answer came when a photograph of a three-year-old child found drowned on an Aegean beach galvanized world attention and sent governments scurrying to act. 

Stalin was right.

I had to put a human face to the moneymakers, traffickers, terrorized families, activists, islanders, politicians, press, and cops caught up in the refugee catastrophe that had become a tipping point for society.

In telling their stories, my characters hit upon a plan for addressing Lesvos’ crisis.  Use ferryboats outfitted with medical, social, and immigration services to process refugees picked up on shores now ruled by traffickers. Address their claims with dignity and respect, and deliver to welcome centers those granted entry for the next step in their journey.  For those denied entry, set them ashore in safe harbors outside the EU. All for a cost far less than the existing jumble of governmental policies and programs in shambles.

The idea appealed to some in government, but it never came to pass. I guess I shouldn’t be that disappointed, because the character advocating it in my book had his head chopped off.  I, on the other hand, got to see my book, An Aegean April, selected as one of the best books of 2018.

The continuing crisis gets little attention these days, but not much has changed other than the numbers and sophistication of its profiteers.  Turkey still uses the release of refugees as pawns in its disputes with Greece and the EU, and Lesvos’ notorious Moria Refugee Camp currently houses six times its capacity in what’s described as “the moral failure of Europe” by journalists, “hell” by its inhabitants, and a “battleground” by islanders desperate to see their island return to what it once was.

We’ll see if the West is ready for what’s coming in 2020.


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

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
Mountainview Clubhouse
38692 Mountain View Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panels yet to be announced 

Thursday, October 15—Sunday, October 18
Panels yet to be announced


  1. We are watching the border situation closely in Greece but I suspect few 'back home' in the States have an inkling of its being. Of course 'back home' for us has been labeled by the Washington Post as 'the epicenter of Corona virus in the U.S.' so I can see why they may be preoccupied back there. You know the world has tilted when deciding to buy a box of disposable gloves at our village supermarket (just in case) I found three boxes. And all were dust covered. It made me smile - yes, sometimes we grasp even the smallest positives! Wash your hands and keep writing!

    1. Let us just pray that the laid back nature we so love, proves to be right approach. Stay safe, and don't forget your Happy Birthday lyrics. :)

  2. Governments rarely act until their populace demand it, and it's all too likely that people want to "defend the status quo" (i.e., "No floods of immigrants here!") Witness Brexit, for example, and Trumpism Isolationism in the U.S.

    You said, "May God have mercy on our souls should COVID-19 or its like reach the camps." The word 'should' should (alas) be replaced with 'when.' :-(((

    1. Frankly, I think Brexit and Trumpism are more examples of people wanting to CHANGE the status quo--i.e., stagnant economic growth, a sense that only rich getting richer, politicians not responsive to the masses, and future looking bleak for at least some in the family.

      As for what happens when a government gets out ahead of its people, I think Germany is the textbook example of that when in 2015 Merkel said Germany would welcome a million refugees. That galvanized much that followed...and remains in camps to this day.