They are easy to spot. They look desperately tired. And dirty – like they haven’t changed clothes in weeks. Even in a crowd, they look alone; it’s almost as if you can see the despair settling into their eyes and the burden of worry loading down their shoulders. The swell of new refugees and immigrants into Greece simply doesn’t relent.
In July and August we met many new refugees around Athens: mostly from Afghanistan; often only having been in the city for a day or two; always displaying the despair and worry of new arrivals. With our building closed for construction, our ministry team spent extra time in the city parks and plateias (or neighborhood squares) around Athens this summer. This is where we first encounter these new arrivals.
Refugees and immigrants continue to pour into Greece. As the chart (above) indicates, while the numbers of illegal immigrants has tapered off in Italy and other European ports, Greece is unable to control its borders. Almost 3/4 of illegal immigrants headed for Europe in 2009 used Greece as their point of entry – that’s over 75,000 immigrants! Three years ago, Greece served as the point of entry for about 50% of illegal immigrants coming into the EU; 2010 estimates see that percentage swelling to around 80%. These numbers are coming from a recent article on illegal immigration in Greece in The Economist – it’s well worth the five minutes to read through.
As if not already overwhelming, we must remember that these numbers immigrants PEOPLE are entering a fragile economic and volatile social situation here in Greece. In short, these refugees and immigrants can expect little help from the Greek government – already crippled by innumerable crises in the past year. From the Economist article:
Detention centres for irregular immigrants in Greece are small and understaffed, and there are too few of them. Cash-strapped authorities encourage detainees to move on to Athens before their claims have been processed. And on top of the flow of tens of thousands arriving every year is a stock of an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants already in the country. The €80m ($103m) the government spends each year on tackling the problem is far from adequate, but with austerity in the air more cash is unlikely to be found.
With this in the air, we are excited (jumping up and down, can’t hardly wait excited!) that we will be reopening our ministry center (the Athens Refugee Center) on Saturday! Please pray for our refugee friends, our ministry team, our updated programing (more on this later) and – of course – the many new refugee friends we’ll be meeting in the next weeks. Thanks for your support, love, and prayers!