Stuck in the Doorway
To tell the stories of our voiceless brethren forced to leave their homes as they struggle to make a new life.
Bill Megalos presents at the Taihe Civilizations Forum, Beijing, August 2017
On August 25, 26, 27 Bill was invited to deliver a presentation on climate change at the Taihe Civilizations Forum in Beijing, hosted by China’s premier think tank, the Taihe Institute. He talked about how the poor are always the hardest hit by disasters and environmental issues. He pointed out that the Syrian war came about as a result of a climate change-induced drought that brought farmers to the cities and started the peaceful protests that the Assad government suppressed. He brought forth the idea of climate refugees and how in the coming years that will dwarf the current crisis. He showed this clip as part of his presentation.
Two years after we all saw overwhelming and shocking images of refugees crossing the Aegean to Greece, many of them still live in limbo. This film and media project, Stuck In The Doorway, will examine the lives of the 60,000 currently in Greece, some making a new life there, some still trying to find a new home. As we meet people and get to know them in different circumstances around the country, we will post profiles, short videos, Virtual Reality scenes and the refugees’ observations, as well as those of the Greeks and international community who are working with them. Join us on this blog as we meet these people to make our full-length documentary. Please share the link with others who might appreciate it.
After I published my reflections on the economic austerity regime imposed on Greece by the EU (see 'Helen's Story' and 'What Does Austerity Look Like (Part Two)') I received a couple of thoughtful and very interesting emails from an old friend from high school days....read more
From the beginning of this project we had set as our goal to show the human side of the refugee crisis and not ignore, but leave in the background the politics involved. For weeks, I had been asking City Plaza to give us a person from their legal support services to...read more
How do you feel when you are lifting your child onto a desperately overloaded, leaky, half-deflated rubber raft with a sputtering motor, with everything you had built in the life behind you destroyed forever and the very real possibility that some or all of you may...read more
City Plaza is a squat that houses refugees. They don’t accept funding from governments or NGOs and they are entirely supported by donations and volunteers in solidarity, from Greece and around the world. It's a seven-story building in the middle of Athens that used to...read more
What does austerity look like? (Part Two) There's another, disarmingly simple way into the austerity story. Yesterday, walking up one of the neighborhood's main commercial streets, I noticed I'd just passed several empty storefronts in succession. Empty storefronts...read more
When we started thinking about who to interview for this project, Philippe Leclerc, United Nations High Commission for Refugees was near the top of our list. A lawyer by training, Mr. Leclerc has worked with UNHCR for over 25 years and assumed his position as...read more
What does austerity look like? (Part One) At first glance, not like much. If you're a casual observer, just arrived in Athens and looking for a place to eat, austerity can look like this: Or even this: The streets are lively and verdant, and the Mediterranean sun...read more
It has taken me over a week to write this post, as I was so moved my our time in Rovies. Rovies broke my heart. By that I mean it grew several sizes in sensitivity and empathy. Rovies is a wonderful place, as perfect as could be imagined. It is run by dedicated,...read more
Who are the refugees? The changing composition of the refugee population.
Photograph by Zaphiris Epaminondas
Who are the refugees?
The refugees currently in Greece are a mixed population from a variety of countries. In addition to Syrians there are Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, Palestinians, Eritreans and Pakistanis, among others. From Syria, Iraq and Iran there are a mixed population of Kurds, as well as other communities and sects.
Where are the refugees? Although there are still refugees in camps on various islands, most have been moved to the Greek mainland. Many, but not all, live in camps that look like this.
Photograph by Zaphiris Epaminondas
Where are the refugees?
The Greek government has struggled for over two years with the problem of receiving, processing and housing hundreds of thousands of people arriving by boat, on foot, and via every other conceivable means of transportation. With the help of international and local NGOs, as well as funds from a variety of sources, the government recently established a system of ‘accommodation centers’ where refugees would be housed while processing their requests for emigration to other countries. However, for many categories of refugees, emigration is becoming more and more difficult, and a large population now lives on Greek soil with no clear possibility of leaving Greece anytime soon.
How many refugees are in Greece? No easy answer to this one.
Photograph by Zaphiris Epaminondas
How many refugees are currently in Greece?
Now we enter the realm of statistics and fuzzy data. There are no agreed figures at this time that we know of for the total number of refugees currently living in Greece. Numbers vary from about 55,000 to 61,000 up to 65,000. Each agency, NGO or ministry has its own data gathering protocols AND its own interpretation of the results. Each entity also has financial, political or social reasons that may affect the process. For working purposes, 60,000 or so is probably quite realistic.
Reflections on the Project
We are living in a world that faces increasing displacement of populations due to conflict, economic crises and climate change.
The traditional media focuses on the most dramatic and sensational moments of this global migration but is disinclined or unable to go beyond the surface to show the human dimension of this crisis. I am excited to be able to tell the stories of individuals and families as they make the transition to new lives in their new homes. Our focus is on the refugees themselves as well as the people they interact with.
I am grateful for the opportunity to explore these lives and could not be happier with our team. In forty years as a documentarian, I could not imagine a more capable team than ours for this project, as filmmakers, as journalists and as people. I have known Zafiri and Michel for over 30 years and there are no better collaborators.
I feel our years of experience have prepared us for this task and we are honored and grateful to be able to give voice to these people. We take our responsibility seriously and come from a place of love and respect.
Zaphiris Epaminondas, GSC Filmmaker
Nearly 100 years ago my grandfather was an army officer of the Ottoman empire. When the Greek army entered Minor Asia with the intention to liberate the Greeks who had lived there since ancient times, he defected to the Greek army. In retaliation, the Ottomans executed his wife and two children. After the defeat of the Greek army, the entire Greek population of 1.5 million left their homeland and moved to the Greek mainland as refugees.
My grandfather never spoke of his past and the decision he took that changed the fate of his family and later my own, but it was always present- My entire life experience is based on that choice.
I had my first encounter with today’s refugees in 2015 filming the refugee crisis in Lesvos; flimsy, overfilled boats landing day and night, the same way those Greeks fled the burning city of Smyrna. It was the most emotional shooting in my 30 years working in film. I could not hold my tears as I documented the safe arrival of refugees after a 6 hour trip in the water, escaping from the ongoing five year war in Syria.
The old images of Greek refugees were black and white and you could see them in lines walking with their livestock and their belongings. Today’s refugees have backpacks and mobile phones, that’s what they need to make their journey.
I repay my family’s debt by telling their stories.
Many years ago, as a schoolteacher in Lebanon, I watched as old hatreds and new fears welled up around me until, inevitably, they produced torture, murder and finally war. Like many of my friends, I had no choice but to leave. Unlike them, because I was not Lebanese, I could restart elsewhere with little more consequence than a minor case of PTSD.
Many of my Lebanese friends were forced to flee, some stayed and some did not survive. Of those who left, most spent years yearning for their homeland, wandering the world in search of a new place to call home. Some found what they were looking for, many did not. All of them deserved better than the suffering and upheaval they endured either way.
Much more recently I was unexpectedly able to discover in detail the history of the Jewish side of my family, and to know the old and young relatives who were herded by German forces into a forest, stripped, shot and dumped into a pit. Others were shot in Stalinist prison basements, or suffered unbelievable deprivation and want so intense that nothing in my life can approach it.
Where does all this hatred come from? How is it possible that we haven’t learned yet how utterly useless it is? And now we see all around us a resurgence of these old demons. Will one more documentary help bring us back into the light? Probably not, but it’s up to us to at least try.