Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
TV Presenters wildly mislead Greek public
It is entirely unsurprising that parts of the Greek public hold such wild and incorrect positions on the refugee response when those paid to inform them are willing to spread falsehood on live television.
TV presenters Iordanis Xasapopoulos and Anthi Voulgari, working on MEGA TV’s (Greece) Society Time show, have launched a vicious and untrue attack against organisations working on the Eastern Aegean islands.
The show was broadcast on Monday 13 June, and although it is several days old, we believe it is important to share, as it is a clear indication of the struggle we all face.
Commenting on the entirely correct statement to the European Parliament (last month – the story was dragged up last week by Nea Dimokratia’s ‘Truth Team’, which handed it to Greek media so the party’s politicians could use it to attack SYRIZA MEP Stelios Kouloglou and, by extension, SYRIZA itself) by Iasonas Apostolopoulos that the Greek Coastguard had thrown people into the sea, Voulgari claimed to have been to Lesvos where she saw people being rescued by the Coastguard and Greek Navy.
We cannot say she did not go to Lesvos – lots of people have been there. And we certainly cannot say that she did not see the Greek Coastguard and/or Navy rescue people.
But we should note that just because she saw the Coastguard do one thing, once, this does not prove that the Coastguard has never done anything else.
We might also mention that the timing of her visit is rather important.
If she was on Lesvos in 2015 or early 2016, when the Greek refugee response was at its peak (this seems most likely as she claims to have been there as a ‘reporter’) then what she saw was the ‘transitional’ stage of the response: people were arriving in Greece and travelling on to other countries. At this stage, the Greek Coastguard and the Greek public, as well as many NGOs and other actors, were largely involved in saving people at sea, and helping them ashore (this, by the way, is the actual job of a Coastguard).
But the situation today – and particularly since 1 March 2020 – is very different. Today, the Greek government’s main policy towards refugees is to illegally push them back. On the Aegean Islands alone (the focus of Voulgari’s outburst against Apostolopoulos and, as we shall see, NGOs) almost eight out of every ten people to have arrived in Greece (78.1 per cent) have been illegally pushed back. In fact, the percentage is probably far higher than that.
This was not enough for Voulgari, however. She then said:
‘[Apostolopoulos] does not talk about the NGOs that collaborated with the traffickers and pocketed all this money for the refugees to come and to live in these unacceptable conditions.’
Now. It is important to note that Voulgari, in the course of her two-minute rant twice claimed that the people selling spaces on boats to people hoping to reach the EU are ‘traffickers’. They are not. Traffickers force people to make journeys they do not wish to, using threats, actual violence and/or trickery. The people on these boats wanted to come to the EU. They are not being ‘trafficked’.
The regularly-used term is ‘smugglers’ and this is closer to the truth but in fact also not strictly accurate, as the people on the boats are exercising their legal right to travel to apply for asylum, and are not ‘hidden’, or being smuggled: in fact, they present themselves to the authorities in order to enter the legal asylum system.
And of course, the central falsehood in her tirade: that NGOs have worked with ‘traffickers’ for financial or any other reasons.
We must be absolutely as clear as possible on this: not one single person working for a humanitarian organisation, let alone any organisation itself, on the Eastern Aegean islands, has ever been proven to have worked in any way whatsoever with a ‘trafficker’ or ‘smuggler’. Not one. Not once. Not ever.
The Greek government has still not even levelled charges against the ten NGOs and individuals it claimed had worked with traffickers in September 2020.
Voulgari is a journalist, and on this issue is pretending to have a position of expert knowledge. If so, this would indicate that she knows that what she said was wrong – in other words, that it was a lie.
If she does not know it to be false, then she is not qualified to make any comment, and certainly not to do so in the pretence that she speaks from a position of knowledge or expertise.
We must also ask the question, what service does she think she is providing by spouting falsehoods on a television programme? Who does she believe she is benefitting? She holds a privileged position – her words are heard by the Greek public, and in far greater number and far more regularly than almost anyone who does not do her job.
But with that privilege comes great responsibility. Voulgari should know – and if she does not, we are here to tell her – that she must do better than misleading the population of Greece.