Leros Interview Transcript

Recorded interview on June 8th to “TK,” Greek resident in Leros and Manager of the restaurant “L,” and “EC,” who works for the Austrian charity “Echo100plus.” The interview was held by me (Kenneth) and Kim. The interviewees asked to be anonymous.

(Conversation related to refugees starts at 04:04)

TK: We lived it all, the situation in our skin, all this year.

Kenneth: Last year, was it really strong (the refugees crisis)?

TK: Last year was only crazy for one or two months on this island

Kenneth: This summer too?

TK: We hope no, but it’s only Turkey’s . . . (unintelligible) . . . now. If Turkey decides that let them go, we never know. But I think that they now that if they [refugees] come in Greece they will be stuck in Greece, so they don’t want that, nobody wants to stay in Greece, and now they try to find more dangerous ways. Like from Libya to Italy, from Libya to Spain and I don’t know if there is another. Is a big problem if Europe don’t help. This problem is not this year, we had refugees from Syria for ten years now, but the number wasn’t to be aware. You had a hundred people every three months or something like that. But last time in August a thousand, a thousand a thousand.

Kenneth: Was the worst (time).

TK: Yes, here all this area was people eating, sleeping, because the NGO’s wasn’t here. From October NGO’s starting organize camps, hotspots…

Kenneth: Just in October?

TK: In Leros…

EC: It takes time to get organize you know

Kenneth: Yeah, of course.

EC: United Nations, UNHCR.

TK: United Nations and MSF were the biggest help. They came first they organized everything. Of course then they found ground for the NGO’s to come. Of course not all are official NGO’s and people that you never know what they are, they come here “I’m a volunteer,” someone argue, “I’m a volunteer” (laughs). Now it’s a calm situation and we hope to be like this…

Kenneth: But you know the deal between Europe and Turkey just stopped…

TK: Yeah, but I think that Turkey cannot risk to lose the money because the money they will take. Besides the deal they have to take 6 billion I think. If they start sending people, Europe will close our borders too I think. You’ll see what’s coming, they have much more problems than the refugees’ crisis. They have bombings every day, the Kurdish problem, the Armenian problem. They have now open with Germany because they recognize the Armenian…

EC: Genocide

TK: Genocide yes. I think that the problem will be in Turkey now, and bigger problem. The refugees will be something we will forgetting in some months.

Kenneth: Are you not expecting more refugees?

TK: I’m expecting more. Not the same amount as last year. Because they haven’t spoke. Beside the deal, they haven’t spoke to come. They didn’t come in these numbers, and they didn’t come so easy. Because now in all our ports there is . . . (unintelligible) . . .  our police, our navy, Turkish navy.

EC: I saw one of the navy ships in the bay.

Kenneth: Yeah, I saw it too.

TK: Leros is the biggest navy station so all the ships coming here for fuel. So around Leros we have a lot of forces now. In Lesbos, in Samos is not so easy because they are closer to the coast of Turkey…

EC: Too close.

TK: Too close, and Samos, Samos you can swim across . . . (unintelligible) … In the night they can do anything. I’m just afraid that our actions will not be as last year. Last year we had hospitality, let’s help you, let’s see what make you feel comfortable. This time I think will be the opposite.

Kenneth: People is getting tired.

TK: We getting tired not with the people. We’re getting tired of what we see for seven years no help to the Greeks and with the refugees immediately help with money. We are Europeans, and you have seven years cutting salaries, making taxes, make our economy bleed. And you want us to help you, and you don’t help us again. Ok, I cannot . . . (unintelligible) . . . borders, let them go all to Italy, Bulgaria, I don’t know where, and fuck you! (laughs). We don’t want to use punishment but we don’t want the others to make us use punishment. We are not racist, we love the people, with the Syrian we have common history because we have the same problem with Turkey.

EC: When was that?

TK: 1921. When all the coast was Greek and Kemal Ataturk threw us away.

EC: So the coast of Turkey was Greek.

TK: Yes, almost until . . . (unintelligible) . . . was Greek. Then we were a little bit more optimistic and we wanted to go farther.

EC: You wanted more, and it didn’t work out well…

TK: We lose all we had already. Then half Greeks come back to Greece and the other half, it was more easy, went to Syria. In Syria they helped us, it was very nice to go back to Syria. Now they came here. With the Syrian I say, ok we have a connection, but with the Syrian we have Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, all Africa. Ok, in some point don’t forget that you are illegal. Maybe you manage to come here, you save yourself from the sea, from Turkey, from I don’t know what, but here you’re still illegal, I cannot treat you like I own you something. You have to be . . . (unintelligible) . . . If you are not Syrian. Syrian have all the political rights, asylum, you have war in your country. I think for the Syrians it is still a little bit easy to go where they want. If they have invitations from . . . (unintelligible) . . . they have relatives, they make the procedure and the go. (unintelligible) . . .Further than Athens we cannot send them. Europe cannot accept them; we cannot accept them here. They must be in prison, at least to be in hotspots.  I know it’s not good, but we are forced to do something else. If it happened 15 years ago when we were ok economically, we would had to take them as workers, to find them house, to make facility for them. Now we cannot afford it and we don’t want it now. We don’t want to be again the victim of the situation, to help everything and nobody help us, so as they say fuck you! We can do anything we want now. We are in a point now that we don’t care if we are inside, if we are outside, if we have fuel, if we have Drachma, if USA likes us, if USA don’t like us. We know our position, we now that if you make war here for some reason all the other groups lose not us, here we have peace for everyone. You can go to Asia quicker and if you go around Africa, so don’t make me . . . (unintelligible) All our history we weren’t racist, we help people, they help us of course, but now it’s a lot of things that combined don’t have . . . (unintelligible). I know that my English is no so good to express what I want.

Kenneth: No, it’s perfect

EC: It sounds very clear.

TK: Now we are in . . . (unintelligible) … they didn’t help us, we don’t help us . . . (unintelligible) . . . they don’t want to be here, they want to leave, but at least they have a comfortable life as long as they stay here. We don’t have a problem like in other islands. In the other islands they protest, they make riots, they make some problems. Here they are calm. We have good people, the “Leros solidarity” and all of that, they help them a lot.

EC: What’s your opinion of Leros solidarity?

TK: I think is very good, they have made very good for all this time. Of course they earn something to do all of this. I don’t think that all this is volunteering, there is profit, for everyone. MSF they take three thousand euros per month, like this I’m a volunteer too. Is work, is business…

EC: No, but it’s eh…

TK: It’s business and you work with lives. I have seen people like you that are volunteers volunteers that came from I don’t know, came here with their own money and want just help. It was very little number of this.

EC: I’m surprised, so I’m feeling like an idiot really (laughs)

TK: Most people, yes, I know they make deals you know with other volunteers. (Talking of a volunteer) From alone he become chief from the camp, people who speak the Arabic language, and he went to buy tickets from the Ferry, he bought the tickets and then he sent it to the refugees fifteen Euros more expensive. Ok, they realized in some point and we throw him away, but imagine how many money he makes, three months, with five thousand people almost every week. It’s something like that.

EC: Well, If the difference in price were like one or two Euros for its work, but fifteen Euros… it’s an opportunist

TK: It works in the conditions that they didn’t care how much they pay.

EC: Yes

TK: So, and they didn’t know . . . (unintelligible) . . . they come to my restaurant and they say, “I want a bottle of water,” “Ok, fifty Cents.” And they take out fifty Euros and they didn’t expect for change. They though that’s it. So it would be really easy for me if I wanted to make a lot of money. There was cafeterias that they . . . (unintelligible) . . . the password for . . . (unintelligible) . . .. They said to put your phone on the plug. They said that 5 Euros, 10 Euros a minute. They find their way to make money very easy. I cannot say that I’m very against about that for one reason. All these started in the worst economic for Greece, so it was very normal, some people . . . (unintelligible).

EC: But it’s not all about money…

TK: It’s not all about money, but if you have debts, if you living in island, like Leros, a little island, you have a lot of debts, five years now, you see that the tourism is not so big to help you survive the year and suddenly you wake up one morning and you have 3000 people hungry outside… you say “thank you God.”

Kenneth: Also I believe the refugees crisis affected tourism, right?

TK: Yes, in some islands like Kos, like Chios, Lesbos, it was bigger the problem, here it’s ok I see until now the tourism is the same as last year. Of course, last August when the tourist saw that, they didn’t like, they didn’t feel save. For Greece I don’t think that’s enough to keep tourism out. Greece has 1500 islands; you can go wherever you want to go. If you want . . . (unintelligible) . . . to Creta you will go, to Athens you will go. I don’t think it affects so much, maybe in specific islands like Kos because I think Kos… Here outside very bad, people there react, react badly, they’re so crazy, they’re so aggressive…

EC: Aggression.

TK: Yes, aggression.  Maybe they have a little bit more problem. Here tourists that I know, they see that they’re safe. Even if you are in Leros, even if you are in New York, even if you are in London, even if you are in Portugal. If you walk in the main street you’ll see a gay man, you’ll see a lesbian, you’ll see a straight man, a straight woman, a woman with scarf, you’ll see a black man, you’ll see a . . . (unintelligible) . . . ok it’s the same thing, you walk in here ok you’ll see a family with scarfs. It’s not bad, its culture, another culture. The only bad thing is that they have to fit inside this culture, and I know that is opposite to this culture. They cannot accept that my girlfriend will wear a skirt like this (indicating a short skirt) and that I’ll be happy about that. If it was their daughter, they will hit her. If we can find the golden line for that, it will be good for all, that’s the problem. And they don’t want to fit. They want to make communities…

EC: Impose…

TK: Ok, keep your culture, keep your religion. I would like to a place to go a pray, ok know you have a . . . (unintelligible) . . . I respect that, but you have to respect that for example you’re in a Christian orthodox country. Right opposite of you. You have to respect that. You have to respect me, I don’t care if you want to kill me. You have to respect it because you’re here. And is very easy for me not to respect you. If you don’t respect me, you’re in my land, is more easy for me to kill you or to erase you from the map.

(laughs)

Kenneth: Did you see some disrespect from the refugees to Greek people?

TK: Yes, in some places. The biggest is … the dogs.

EC: They don’t like dogs. Dogs are considered very dirty.

TK: They don’t like dogs. Their religion says that they’re dirty. Because the most of people have dogs and they pay them for walks. I have seen refugees kicking dog without no reason, they passing through the streets and they spit. They do something like that. Ok, don’t do that. Because I’m not racist…

EC: It’s a matter of respect.

TK: If I respect you, you have to respect me. I know it’s not easy for you to be in west way of life country, but you’re in war, that’s why you left. If you don’t want that go to Saudi Arabia or go to Dubai, don’t come here. At the time that you choose to come here, it means that you are… you have the will to fit in that culture, and you see the little girls they know Justin Bieber for example, they want to be more free as girls.

EC: Western, more western.

TK: To go out, to see cinema, to go for a drink, or anything, but you see the fear in their eyes that if you talk me my father would not be happy. For example, here in August… I will tell you one example. It was in that table (he points a table in the restaurant) three men and a girl. The girl was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. And, it was her brother, a cousin of her, and a friend. So I have met the brother the day before, so I know him, we speak a little bit, and I said loud to hear from all, “you have a very beautiful sister, your sister is very beautiful, you have to take care of her.” You know, funny, something like that. The friend… and the other man saw me with an eye… The girl was very happy, she’s fine, she smiles but she looked around to see how’s the reaction of the others. The brother tells me, “Thank you because you’re the first man in her life that told her in the face, she never heard something so beautiful from someone.” And I say him, “tell her (because she doesn’t understand English) to get used to it.” Now you’re going to Germany, she’s a free girl, you don’t have any authority.

EC: Yeahhh I don’t know. It’s his sister, and he’s the man of the family.

TK: I just wanted to give him a little bit to realize that this is our culture. If she wants to go out with him she must not have in mind to ask her brother. Of course they don’t do it, ok I know that. But you have to tell them some things like that to be more easy for them. They came here they say “oh it’s too expensive, too expensive!” Too expensive here in Leros? Ha! Wait to go to Athens, wait to go to Athens. If they thought they would come here and everything would be free, that we’ll have houses for them…

EC: The stories they hear…

TK: Excuse me, I’ll come back.

Kenneth: Ok.

(TK has to go away to attend his business. He comes back later but just to give his full name for the record and to say goodbye)