Greece Petros Markaris

Petros Markaris
Photo: Goethe-Institut | Vangelis Patsialos

What does the term refugee mean to you?

This is someone who must leave their country due to extraordinary circumstances which threaten his life. These extraordinary circumstances may be natural disasters, hunger, war or political suppression.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Flight is always associated with the concept of „survival“, be it poverty or war. The difference is that escaping poverty often is the result of a voluntary decision while escaping war almost always is the consequence of force. In most cases, this is also the basis for the difference between emigration and flight.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

The environment increasingly turns into a problem. And worse than that is the fact that many states, including states of the so-called “civilized“ or „Western“ world, are either consciously ignoring the problem or belittling it. I believe that flight due to ecological problems is still ahead of us.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

There are two answers to this: A simple one and a complicated one. The simple one is: When the refugees return to their home country. The more complicated one is: When, on the one hand, the refugees integrate themselves into their new country to the extent that they accept their host country as their chosen homeland, but on the other hand also when the local population accepts them as new citizens and not dismisses them as unwanted strangers. Greece is a good example for that. The Greek refugees who came to Greece from Asia minor and the area of the Black Sea in 1922 were considered by the local population as strangers and were not welcome, in spite their common language and religion.
It took years until these refugees accepted their new country as their home and were also treated like indigenous Greeks by the local populace.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Yes, unquestionably.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

What does this mean, unconditional? All displaced persons who do not leave their country of origin voluntarily but because their lives are in danger, should have a right to asylum. The only condition would be that the authorities in the country they arrive in decide in which country they will be granted asylum, as long as the country is a safe one. The displaced persons may not decide themselves in which country they will be granted asylum. The dividing line is the one between refugees and migrants who present themselves as refugees and thus want to profit from the right to asylum the refugees have.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

No country is able to accept an unlimited number of refugees. Even rich countries and societies would reach the limits of their accommodation abilities at some point. On the other hand, a union such as the EU has the possibility to distribute the refugees to individual member states.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

It’s the size of the host country and its economic potential. Countries with a weak economy and high rates of unemployment can take less refugees. The refuges need work for themselves, too. The wave of refugees in Greece in 1922 is a good example. The locals had to be afraid for their daily bread. They did not want any newcomers, for fear that they all would have to suffer from famine. Hostility was linked to the fear for survival.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others?

No, there are no privileged refugees in Greece. There are only refugees who are better liked by the local population than others.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

I do not have a general picture. In Athens where I live, they are treated very humanely by the municipality. Also the government has opened a number of refugee centers in the course of the last months. But unfortunately I do not have a picture of the conditions that prevail in these centers. What is certain is that the large flow of refugees is a heavy burden for the Greek authorities and constitutes a problem which is difficult to solve.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

Greece has been in a dep financial crisis for the last 6 years. Serious cuts have already been made in the social system. I cannot imagine additional cuts in a system that almost collapsed. Other than the case of Greece, I still have concerns. I am afraid that the cuts in the social system may increase the population’s animosity towards the refugees.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Practical experience so far teaches us that unfortunately, there are no general conditions, with the exception of a country’s language which the refugees should learn as fast as possible. Without the language, the other person will remain “the foreigner” on both sides. Another condition is that refugees not be accommodated in ghettoes. They should preferably live in mixed neighborhoods so that contact with the local populace will become an everyday thing and both sides will get used to living with the other in piece. I grew up in Istanbul belonging to a minority and from personal experience, I am familiar with the tendency of minorities to live among themselves and apart from the majority.

Do you know any refugees personally?

You could say that. I live in a part of town with many refugees and migrants.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Unfortunately not. I am too old for that.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?
b) over the next two decades?

As already mentioned, I live in a country in crisis and don’t even know how the country will look at the end of the year, let alone in two decades. Let’s therefore stay with the near future. I do not believe that the situation in the Middle East will calm down in the next two years. Therefore, Greece should be ready to receive more refugees. The number not only depends on the waves of refugees but also from the willingness of the other EU states to accept refugees, and how many.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

I neither believe in miracles nor in utopias. There will be wars, famine and natural disasters also in the future. So, unfortunately, I cannot imagine a world without refugees.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

Fortunately no.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

I can assume with certainty that, at my age and in my country, it will not come to that.

How much “home” do you need?*

I cannot really relate to the term of „home“. I was born in Istanbul and grew up there, but I never perceived Turkey as home, because of Turkish nationalism at the time. I think of Greece as the home of my language. I only have one hometown, and that is Istanbul.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.