A huge crowd had gathered in front of the Kos town hall. Police and media were also present in large numbers. And for good reason, a senior delegation from the Greek government was visiting Kos with the vice president of European Commission, Frans Timmermans, and the EU-commissioner for Migration, Dimitri Avramopoulos. The goal was to discuss the refugee situation with the local authorities.
I had heard about the meeting yesterday during the weekly meeting of all involved aid agencies, from the UN to the Greek aid organization Solidarity, and from the Red Cross to our own boat refugee foundation. Some of them had received written invitations for the meeting with Timmermans, others had not. UN representative Roberto insisted that I go to town hall and try to get into the meeting.
So there I am at the gates. Would I be able to get in with only our blue foundation t-shirt as my credentials? But in no time, I’m walking into the council chamber after passing a few minor obstacles. The meeting wih Timmermans, Avramopoulus, several Greek ministers, the mayor of Kos, and other local authorities is still in full swing. Wearing the foundation’s outfit, amongst suits and ties, I am given the seat of honor, where the chairman of the council usually sits. I am a witness on this “day of truth”, as Timmermans calls it.
Europe is once again called upon to share the responsibility for the influx of migrants fairly. Extra European funds will be made available for Greece to help accommodate the refugees. The local authority of Kos is applauded for their work so far, but at the same time, they are asked to get ready for more work. And then it’s time for “my moment of truth” when Timmermans passes my seat during a short break and we shake hands.
The next meeting starts quickly. Fine, that’s what I have come for. It is now the turn of the NGOs to have their say, and the stories of the miseries of Kos city are told and heard by all. Halfway through the chairman intervenes as Timmermans is on a tight schedule and the meeting has to end. Unfortunate, as I had prepared a short speech. But then Timmermans acknowledges the efforts of the workers in the field and turns to me whilst naming our foundation specifically. That made my day.
And so ends the “day of truth”, and the reality of what we deal with on a daily basis becomes apparent again as soon as I step outside. A Syrian family walks by on the quay, in search of hope for tomorrow. Tourists embark on boats for a tour of the beautiful blue sea.
(By Wijnand Versteeg | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)