As Migrants Wash Ashore, Greek Island Residents Come To Their Aid

As Migrants Wash Ashore, Greek Island Residents Come To Their Aid

7:36pm Aug 10, 2015
Migrants arrive Monday on the Greek island of Chios, where residents have been assisting the new arrivals.
Migrants arrive Monday on the Greek island of Chios, where residents have been assisting the new arrivals.
John Liakos

Migrants are arriving in record numbers in Greece, and two boatloads of men, women and children landed Monday on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea.

All Things Considered host Melissa Block has relatives in her extended family on the island. Her husband's cousins have been assisting the migrants, who are arriving via Turkey from Afghanistan and Syria, as they reach the rocky shores.

She spoke with one of those cousins, Maria Vlassopoulos, who has been helping the migrants at Yiossonas beach, which is next to the family's house on the island.


Interview Highlights

On the scene at the beach

Sometimes [migrants] arrive on our shore and the first thing they ask me is, "Where are we? Are we in Greece, are we in Italy, are we in Turkey?" ... We have 15 boats down on our beach. If you put 15 times 50, it makes quite a lot of migrants just on our little beach. Apparently about 400 people a day are arriving in Chios.

On how local residents are helping the migrants

The first day was a bit of a panic because we didn't know what to expect. So we just went down to the beach and then we saw the situation with the mothers crying and the babies wet through and through — they're all wet through and through, and they've lost their shoes and their cellphones are wet. So we didn't know what to do in the beginning, but since then we have got quite organized.

We went and bought supplies and we have biscuits and we have water. Pampers are very important. We give them first aid. We try to soothe them, basically. It's calming them down, telling them, "You're safe, you're in Europe, nobody's going to chase you, nobody's going to kill you."

And then the port authority arrives when we call them, who is the same young man, always.

Resources are really short here and what he does is he takes down their names. They don't have identification papers ever, but he writes down their names as they declare them.

On the condition of the migrants when they arrive

They're very dehydrated. Some of the babies are very limp. ... Some of them have not seen the sea before, so this is a very new experience for them.

On local reaction to the migrants

There's no negativity. Whoever you talk to says, "The poor people, you know, they're running away from war." The first couple of boatloads, I just couldn't believe what these people had gone through. I imagined our children being in that situation and it was really moving for me. But now, you know, humans become used to things and I'm not in pieces the way I was in the beginning. We have been through a lot in Greece in the past six months, as you know, and we've been feeling sorry for ourselves. This really puts things in perspective.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For the last a few days, my Instagram and Facebook feeds have been brimming with dramatic photos of migrants landing on the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean - men, women, babies. These photos are coming from my extended family. The migrant crisis has landed quite literally at their doorstep. My husband's cousins have a home right above a pebble beach on Chios, and they've become first-responders, caring for the migrants when they wash ashore. Maria Vlassopoulos, one of those cousins, joins me now from Chios to talk about what these last few days have been like. Yasou, Maria.

MARIA VLASSOPOULOS: Yasou. Yasou, Melissa.

BLOCK: Nice to hear your voice.

VLASSOPOULOS: How are you?

BLOCK: Now, you were telling me earlier that you had two more boatloads that landed just today...

VLASSOPOULOS: Yeah.

BLOCK: ...In your remote village in Yiosona. Now, where are the migrants coming from?

VLASSOPOULOS: They come from Turkey. And they tell us that sometimes the people smugglers take them out to sea. And then they point to Greece, and they say, go in that direction. And they sort of try and make it on their own, so they don't know, really, where they're going. Sometimes they arrive on our shore, and the first thing they ask me is, where are we? Are we in Greece? Are we in Italy? Are we in Turkey, you know?

BLOCK: And what countries are they coming from?

VLASSOPOULOS: They're coming from Afghanistan - lots of Syrian refugees, and lots of them have traveled for very many months to get from Turkey. One family was telling me that they walked or took busses or somehow came from Afghanistan to Turkey and got turned back twice by the Turks before they finally made it over.

BLOCK: Wow.

VLASSOPOULOS: So when they did come, everybody was so enthusiastic when they arrived in Greece. They came on the beach, and they were sort of hugging each other and us and - because they feel like they're free suddenly.

BLOCK: And how many migrants would you say have landed there at Yiosona where you are?

VLASSOPOULOS: Well, we have 15 boats down on our beach. So if you put 15 times 50, it makes quite a lot of migrants just on our little beach.

BLOCK: It's a very small space, yeah.

VLASSOPOULOS: Apparently, about 400 people a day are arriving in Chios, so that's a lot of people.

BLOCK: And then when they land, Maria, what are you doing for them?

VLASSOPOULOS: Well, the first day was a bit of a panic 'cause we didn't know what to expect. So we just went down to the beach, and then when we saw the situation with the mothers crying and the babies wet through and through - they're all wet through and through. And they've lost their shoes, and their cell phones are wet. So we didn't know what to do in the beginning, but since then, we have got quite organized. We went and bought supplies. And we have biscuits, and we have water. Pampers are very important. We give them first aid. But we try to soothe them. Basically, it's calming them down, telling them, you're safe. You're in Europe. Nobody's going to chase you now. Nobody's going to kill you. And then the port authority arrives when we call them, who is the same young man, always. He's responsible for this area.

BLOCK: It's one guy.

VLASSOPOULOS: Yeah. It's one guy. Resources are really short here.

BLOCK: Yeah.

VLASSOPOULOS: And what he does is he takes down their names. They don't have identification papers ever, but he writes down their names as they declare them.

BLOCK: I'm thinking, Maria, that when you go shopping now, you must be buying things in expectation of who might be landing on the beach.

VLASSOPOULOS: Yes, of course. I haven't seen a Pampers since my daughter was a baby. You know, it's quite - I didn't even know how to put it on. I'd forgotten. But you know, I sort of end up holding the babies a lot of the time because they think I'm a granny, so Granny holds the babies.

BLOCK: You mentioned that you'd been giving some medical care. What kind of physical condition are the folks in? What are you treating them for, exactly?

VLASSOPOULOS: Dehydration - they're very dehydrated. Some of the babies are very limp. Don't forget, they've been on a boat with terrified moms screaming a lot of the way because some of them have not seen the sea before, Melissa, OK? So this is a very new experience for them - not only a terrifying one, but once in a lifetime, being in a boat in the sea.

BLOCK: Maria, is there any kind of backlash there on Chios about the migrants coming in or people not being as welcoming as you and your family have been?

VLASSOPOULOS: Well, people aren't - maybe are not as active as we are, but there's no negativity. Whoever you talk to say the poor people, you know - they're running away from war. I mean, the first couple of boatloads, I - you know, I just couldn't believe what these people had gone through. I imagined, Melissa, our children being in that situation. And it was really moving for me. But now, you know, humans become used to things, and I'm not in pieces the way I was in the beginning.

BLOCK: It was really having an effect on you.

VLASSOPOULOS: It was, yes, of course. You know, we have been through a lot in Greece in the past six months, as you know, and we've been feeling sorry for ourselves. This really puts things in perspective in a way.

BLOCK: Well, Maria, all the best to you and to everybody there in Yiosona. Thanks so much for talking to us.

VLASSOPOULOS: Thank you, Melissa. Thank you so much.

BLOCK: That's Maria Vlassopoulos. She's my husband's cousin, and she was talking about the migrants washing ashore on the Greek island of Chios where they spend the summer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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