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Lost illusions

Athens’ 2004 Olympic stadiums are now serving as camps for thousands of refugees and migrants headed from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa towards affluent Western Europe. Greece is facing a new phase of its refugee problem following the closing of the Macedonian border. Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants are now stranded in Greece. The Greek government has decided to open up the stadiums on which it lavished 9 billion € for the 2004 Olympics to those fleeing war and poverty.

Twelve years ago the Olympic flame was shining bright against Athens’ sky. Greece was celebrating a millennium of the summer games with euphoric pride, in the land that had invented the Olympics during Antiquity. After the games, the infrastructure built to host them were abandoned, giving way to a panorama of rusting metallic structures, stadiums overrun by weeds and mountains of trash piling up in deserted parking lots. Such dilapidated infrastructure is the sad reflection of a country embroiled in the worst economic crisis of its history.…

The green crocodile’s tears

Europe is experiencing the most significant influxes of refugees since World War II. Pushed by civil war, terror or hardship, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the Middle East and Africa. They are risking their lives along the way to Western Europe. Rather than addressing that human drama directly, the EU has, for the most part, sought to avoid taking any responsibility.

Soaked to the bones and stuck in the mud, about four hundred refugees are blocked in a narrow path between Serbia and Croatia, some twelve kilometers from the Serbian city of Sid. The border crossing is confined between desolate cornfields surrounded by an extended trash-littered landscape. It had to urgently be reopened to respond to the irresistible flow of people moving forwards towards one goal: to reach Western Europe, mainly Germany, Austria or Sweden. Exhausted, they clutch backpacks and plastic bags containing their only belongings. As more people gather, the pressure becomes suffocating. Children are pulled off their feet, the elderly struggle to draw breath, someone screams, ‘There is a pregnant woman!’ A policeman stuck on an embankment desperately belts out the order for them to move back to a safer buffer zone. Nobody seems to listen or understand. A green crocodile with large blue eyes and a ginger beard suddenly catches his attention. The reptile that emerged right in the middle of this rippling human wave is in fact an activist, who has come from Austria as a volunteer, to help. He is progressing against the current toward the safe haven signaled by the policeman. “Go with the green crocodile! Follow the crocodile!” exclaims the officer. The tightly packed mass spontaneously follows the activist and moves back slowly. The suffocating pressure weakens and the situation backs to relative normality.…