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Vanessa Redgrave: "The Greek people are giving us a lesson in humanity"

07 January 2016 / 20:01:41  GRReporter
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After Hollywood star Susan Sarandon and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a famous British actress also committed herself to humanitarian assistance for refugees from the Middle East.

"The Greek people are showing Europe how to be human, how to try to help fellow human beings", Vanessa Redgrave stated during her visit to Elaionas refugee centre on Tuesday. "Now we have got to tell our governments ‘you’ve got to step in here. The Greeks cannot solve the problem on their own. I have a duty to do what I can to speak for the refugees, the asylum-seekers."

Photo: Yorgos Oikonomopoulos

During her visit to the centre for refugees who are accommodated in the hockey hall in the Olympic complex, the famous British actress was accompanied by Deputy Minister for Migration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kamminis, playwright and screenwriter Martin Sherman and actress Mimi Dennis. Redgrave is in Athens to star in the TV series written by Sherman and based on the book "My Beloved Smyrna" in which she will play a Greek actress.

Photo: Yorgos Oikonomopoulos

Palestinians, Iranians, Pakistanis, Lebanese and Afghans living in the Elaionas camp crowded around Vanessa Redgrave to tell her their stories. "I have lived in Elaionas for one month, with my wife and our four children," one Pakistani said, who was a policeman in his home country, but as he explained to the newspaper To Vima, he had no home and not enough money to raise his children. A group of young Iranians said that they spent weeks in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border but failed to cross it and returned to Athens. The same thing happened with a Lebanese family.

"I am from Gaza. My house was destroyed during the last Israeli invasion that killed my mother and my brothers and sisters," said a Palestinian who wants to go to Italy or Germany. A family of four Iranians from Tehran called the visitors at the van in which they are living and the father explained that their 14-year-old son had managed to go to Germany and that he hoped they would be able to do so under the family reunification rule. One Afghan explained that he was blocked in Elaionas because he had no money to continue his trip to Europe.

Photo: AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis 

"Many Palestinians, Pakistanis and Iranians are accommodated in this centre for whom the doors of Europe are closed because it is believed that unlike Syrians, they are not fleeing war. What are you going to do for those people who are trapped in Greece?" journalists asked the British actress. "These people are looking for a better life for their children. The Greek people have shown the world something priceless. We are trying to help them. My country’s government is very bad. We need to explain to the people what can be done. Here in Greece you have shown what can be done. The world should thank the people of your wonderful islands," she replied.

78-year-old Vanessa Redgrave continued, explaining that she had been a refugee herself during the bombing of London in World War II when "the government of the time did not welcome the Jewish people."

According to sources, the British actress is planning to make a donation to one of the organizations providing medical assistance to refugees. Apostolos Veizis, Programme Manager of "Doctors without borders" at the refugees centre in Elaionas, explained that "over 62% of the health problems of refugees are associated with the conditions under which they are living."

Photo: To Vima newspaper

He also announced that the heated camp in Idomeni built by "Doctors without borders" is empty as the buses with refugees are waiting 15-20 hours for the border to open, at a gas station that is 20 km away from it and at temperatures of -9 degrees. Many refugees from vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women are getting sick and are being hospitalized in northern and central Greece. At the same time, the Ministry of Citizen Protection is not yet transporting refugees to the heated camp, basing its argument on "safety reasons".

"We are living in times close to the Middle Ages"

"I have tried to get in contact with as many people as I could, mainly with children who have arrived alone, without a single relative. It was a joy and honour for me. An Afghan woman approached me, embracing her baby. This is a very strange age, a dark age. Very close to the Middle Ages, I am afraid. And the problem of Greece, regarding Europe today, has been crucial for a long time. To be honest, however, these days I am thinking more about Hungary," said British actress Vanessa Redgrave, adding, "We can offer a little today. It is important to continue our efforts, even with a statement, letter or a helping hand."

Tags: Vanessa RedgraveRefugee campElaionasSupport
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