Costas Giannopoulos, president of Greek children’s aid organization “The Smile of the Child,” says thousands of children and refugees are failing to receive basic services needed for survival
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. The human toll of Greece’s debt crisis continues to mount. Aid organizations that serve the most vulnerable populations, abused or abandoned children, are warning they’re running out of cash at the same time the country’s economic woes intensify. Meanwhile the UN estimates 1,000 refugees are arriving in Greece every day, many of whom are women and children, and are struggling to secure the basic necessities of life. Now joining us to discuss this from Athens, Greece, is Costas Giannopoulos. He is the president of the Greek children’s aid organization The Smile of a Child, which shelters hundreds of abused children across Greece. Thanks so much for joining us. COSTAS GIANNOPOULOS, PRESIDENT, THE SMILE OF A CHILD: Thank you for having us. NOOR: So we just got back from Greece. We wanted to get your perspective on the impact of Greece’s economic crisis on the most vulnerable populations, including families and children. GIANNOPOULOS: You see, going down to the, to the depths that we are and seeing this silent crisis as it is in Greece, and also the vulnerable ones that they cannot speak up, they cannot talk about the situation. We live in a situation right now that is in a standstill for this, for these children, the families that we’re supporting and we’re trying to support. And even us, even the organizations that are supported by people, by the same people that they have now problems and the companies that they are also in a very difficult situation to survive because of these capital controls continuing. And because the economy’s not moving around. So even us, trying to support 60,000 children with families, or children abandoned, or abused, or refugee children, we are struggled and trying to support children but without any means of supporting from the society like we were in the past. So it’s a silent crisis. It’s a deadly crisis, because you can see people killing themselves instead of shouting or fighting or doing something just to avoid this. It’s something that it’s rare for Greece the last so many years. NOOR: And talk about how the crisis is impacting the services that your organization is able to provide. GIANNOPOULOS: You see, our organization is nationwide working 24/7 trying to support children, vulnerable children, running SOS line, like a help line for children. And for missing children we’re running also amber alert, activating amber alert like you do in the United States from the national center that we operate, also. So we have made some structures with professionals, and also a lot of 2,000 volunteers and 408 professionals to run this. Because you cannot do it without professionalism and be active in this area. So also we have support centers for families. And so this is happening 24/7. So it means that we have to find to raise $1.2 million every month to make this moving. And just to give you that, only 10 percent is administration costs. And this has come to a standstill. We had in our count a few days ago only 400,000 euros to–by the end of the month. So we made all this announcement through the media to say that Greece going down, I mean, the families are going down. But we are some people, we are some organizations that we don’t want them to see losing their dignity. We want to continue supporting this everyday situation. Supporting with ambulances, with health–children with health issues, that they need to have examinations, et cetera. We have a situation that it will take a long time to discuss about it, but I’m just trying to give it as much as possible. Because we feel frustrated. Struggle. It’s like, it’s like your head under the water and you cannot breathe. And then when you come up then you go down again. So it’s a situation that, you know, it’s killing, it’s killing people. And killing people in particular, that they’re trying now to find their lives at the beginning. NOOR: And so the term, the terms of the Troika’s third bailout demands more austerity, more cuts to government services and spending. How do you affect this new round of austerity to affect children in Greece? GIANNOPOULOS: You see, if they find a way to make the economy going round, and have the, the companies and the, the commerce continue to work, anything will do. Anything will do to make sure that this tourism economy will go around. And even with measures it will be much better–unfortunately I’m saying this. I shouldn’t say this. Them having, going back to drachma or destroying all the economy at the end, and having everything stand still. We have to be, we have to stay in Europe. We have to fight for this. And we have to show to our partners that the Greece–there’s another Greece that fights. There’s another Greece that tries to make sure that we keep the dignity of the Greek people. I had written a letter to [inaud.] I just had a reply today from his office that he will pass to [inaud.] our letter trying to, to tell them that we should keep at least a minimum of children living in Greece and of the refugee children without [inaud.] that they come in thousands from various places, from all over from the islands. That we should keep at least, at least which is health, food, and survival. And this should be done in a proper way, not just leaving them in the parks and coming up in our ambulances and taking children that they have illnesses and they have viruses, and they have so many problems. NOOR: And actually when we were in Greece last week we visited a public park in central Athens where approximately 500 recently-arrived Afghan refugees had been living in squalid conditions. And we actually will be able to show you the images of that refugee camp. So we contacted the United Nations about the lack of services these refugees were receiving. And they told us in this statement part of this was due to the fact that these populations, some of these recently-arrived refugees had not yet applied for asylum in Greece, and therefore they’re not eligible for housing through the state. And they also said, quote, with due consideration to the economic crisis in Greece it’s grappling with, the UN HCR calls on the Greek government to respond to its obligation to provide adequate reception conditions for persons in need of international protection while we also reiterate our calls on the European Union for more robust support to Greece. We understand that your organization has provided services to many of these camps. Can you give us an update of the conditions that these refugees–it’s 1,000 a day that are arriving in Greece. GIANNOPOULOS: First of all there was a meeting with the ministries, the various ministries, that this is something that we say, like the UN say, that these people should be moved to a proper place. To a place that they can live in proper conditions. I mean healthy environment, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, despite they don’t want to ask for asylum, these are human beings that are trying to find better ways and better life. And the scope, the only vision is to move ahead to go to other European countries. They don’t want to stay in Greece. They don’t want to, they just want to stay for a period of time until they find ways legally or illegally to go to other European countries. Unfortunately the situation has gone so bad that the health issues, because of the 42 degrees temperature, it’s creating a lot of problems. Quite a few children that we take them to the hospitals, because of gastroenteritis, because of other issues. Skin problems, et cetera, et cetera. So there are more and more people coming. And some they’re leaving, and some they are coming. And this is not the situation that living in the center of Athens, even in a park without toilets, without any means of health, sanitation and everything. So we’re trying to support them as much as we can. There are other organizations also at least to keep them in feeding them, or giving them the water, and also some fruit and some stuff that they, they at least survive. But this is not the way. We are against philanthropy. We are for, we need and we ask the government to make something about it knowing also that they have no money. Knowing also that although they’re getting some money from these refugees but they have to use it properly. And they have to use it for the benefit of these people that are coming thousands and thousands, every day by day from the various places through the islands. NOOR: Well, Costas Giannopoulos, president of the Greek children’s’ aid organization The Smile of the Child, thank you so much for joining us. GIANNOPOULOS: Thank you. Thank you for having us. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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