Economically Fragile Greece Faces Refugee Crisis


Members of the Greek Red Cross help an Afghan refugee who arrived with an inflatable boat from Turkey and landed on a Greek island.

My wife and I recently returned to Athens, Greece, to minister among Greeks and Albanians.

The lives, fortunes and misfortunes of many there continue to matter to us, despite the reality that we no longer live among them.

Their struggles remain current to us and our awareness of their current trials forms a kind of currency, in which we invest prayer and hope.

The challenges of this proud, historic, Balkan nation often make headlines. Greece needs to right its bloated, bureaucratic and outdated economic ship in the face of pervasive, resistant nepotism. Spending must meet income.

But now, its many islands and loosely guarded ports are like green-light off-ramps on the refugee highway.

With the rise of unchecked violence to the south and east of Greece, waves of people are entering this fragile land, seeking safety and a better chance at life.

In addition to economic housekeeping obligations, Greece must now feed and house many desperate refugees, passing through the islands, on a treacherous journey.

Other European countries, in their frayed, immigrant saturation and compassion fatigue, have blocked their borders.

They are moved to do so by a crescendo of fear-inspired rhetoric, based on a combination of overblown ultra-nationalist concerns, generalized anti-immigrant bias and a genuine reckoning of the actual costs of caring for the settlers' needs.

So, today, thousands of migrants are stuck in unsanitary holding camps in Greece.

We wondered how the new immigrants were affecting the lot of our chosen people, Albanians in Greece, who themselves are often at the mercy of powerful forces over which they have no control.

When we asked, most acknowledged that because the strangers are relatively new to Greece and largely confined to detention centers at ports, on the many Greek islands or at border crossings, there is little direct impact, at the moment.

The response of Albanians and Greeks, many of whom are reaching out to care for the new travelers, despite their own severe limitations, reminds me of something once said by Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov: "Any idiot can face a crisis; it is the day-to-day living that wears you out."

With respect and deference to Chekhov, I must question the first portion of his insight. I actually know some idiots who consistently refuse to face crises!

But, on the other hand, I agree with Chekhov's major point. Life's routine trials can generate a profound weariness.

Indeed, in Athens, we found a highly comprehensive form of burnout over several life-altering circumstances that so many now routinely face.

As if the normal processes of contemporary living do not challenge the structural integrity of all of us, our friends in Athens face massive, additional wear and tear on their souls.

More resources are urgently needed if we are to help them to respond, by God's grace, to the terrific needs in their part of the world.

Among my several supplications for those who are both helped and helping others through PORTA - the Albania House in Athens, I pray for people for whom the daily grind is wearing them down.

Bob Newell, a former ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece, has recently relocated to Texas, where he will continue his work with PORTA - the Albania House in Athens. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. A version of this article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell's monthly electronic newsletter. It is used with permission.

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Tags: Bob Newell, Greece, Immigration, Refugees


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