Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 07 September 2019
FILM 12 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 SEPTEMBER 2019 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Lesvos’ response to the migrant crisis: a lesson for the world in philoxenia Greek Australian director Anne Tsoulis has her heart set on completing Philoxenia, a documentary delving into the local response to Europe’s migrant crisis of 2015 as a means to tackle rising xenophobia. And she needs your help ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS T he Greeks have given the world many things, from democracy and philosophy to the arts, and even delicious kitchen staples like olive oil and feta cheese. But director Anne Tsoulis is convinced the Greeks have something else to offer, and she is set on spreading the message through her latest feature documentary. Produced by Alison Wotherspoon, Philoxenia is based on Europe’s refugee crisis, which saw some 400,000 refugees arrive on Lesvos’ shores – an island with a population of 86,000 people – in 2015 during the height of the Syrian Civil War, within a five-month period. The responsibility of rescuing these people – some alive, others dead – was left up to the locals. While Tsoulis was following the unfolding crisis from her home in Adelaide through the media, it wasn’t until she visited Lesvos herself in 2017 that she really started to understand the gravity of what the islanders had endured. “Every so often you hear of a story that is so difficult to believe is true,” Tsoulis told Neos Kosmos. “When 400,000 refugees came onto their shores, it was left to a small population to deal with it, to go and rescue them, feed them, clothe them, look after their medical needs – it really blew my mind. The bravery and conviction to do whatever it took to rescue these refugees is unbelievable.” One particular encounter she had with a resident of Skala Sykamenias, a small village of 100 people, stands out in her mind. A member of the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, when asked what he thought of these people seeking asylum on the shores of his village, Tsoulis was surprised by his response. “He looked at me incredulously and said: ‘These people are fleeing war; it’s not their fault. When you drag a person out of the sea, half dead, you don’t ask where they come from or what their politics are, you do whatever you can to save them. You give them the food on your table and you give them the shirt from your back’,” she recalls. “It was very powerful coming from someone that belongs to a fascist party like Golden Dawn. And I thought it was a story the world needs to hear and understand, how embedded the whole concept of philoxenia is in the Greek psyche.” Other locals she met shared the sentiment, and even empathised, after all many have ancestors with roots in Asia Minor. Forced to make the perilous journey across the Mytilene Strait from Turkey as refugees themselves, the similarities are not lost on them, and is something the director wishes to highlight. “Greeks have been dispossessed forever themselves, so they understand,” she says. And they haven’t forgotten the help many Greeks received from the Syrians during that difficult time. “They tell you they have a debt to Syria who rescued so many thousands of Greeks and took them in when the Turks sent them on the death marches during the Great Catastrophe. Those who survived and reached Syria, the Syrians just grabbed them and looked after them; helped them get onto boats to Greece, or a lot of them stayed in Syria. Now the Syrians need help. So it’s a really nice symbiotic relationship in a way. But it came at an incredible cost to the locals.” A photo that went viral of Lesvos yiayia Maritsa Mavrapidi helping a young Syrian mother by holding and feeding her baby. CAPTURED BY LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHER LEFTERIS PARTSALIS.
31 August 2019
14 September 2019