This American Life: #593: Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee
August 8, 2016 12:26 PM - Subscribe

We return to Greece with stories of people trying to move on with their lives in whatever way they can. We meet a couple who fell in love even though they weren't expecting anything like that to happen, and even though her family didn't approve. We also meet a shopkeeper in a camp who's running what amounts to a cigarette charity. INTERACTIVE TOUR

Stuff I found really affecting in this one:

(a) The romantic couple being separated and the only way to save her was the reporter giving him cab fare. Yeah, that's probably Not Good Ethical Journalism, but man, I was so glad he did it anyway. Yay love!
(b) That poor girl needing an abortion and because the cab driver wouldn't stay, might freaking die from her pregnancy. This was just giving me the chills all over.
posted by jenfullmoon (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What a devastating pair of episodes these were. I loved that they didn't focus on the tragedy of it all, but instead the human stories that come out of the tragedy.

I especially loved the guy who ran the shop as essentially a non-profit. He could easily set himself up as a Milo Minderbinder type, using his skills/connections to take advantage of his fellow refugees. But, at least as depicted in the piece, he's pretty much just doing what he can to help people survive.

In the context of TAL, I also think that the stories were made more powerful by how obviously swept up the reporters became. Especially the guy who paid for the cab fare, and the women who interviewed (and followed up with) the pregnant woman.

One thing that frustrates me, from the comfort of a North American non-refugee life, is the waste of human capital. You've got thousands of young men, many of whom are bored out of their minds and a lack of jobs. You've got people living in tents. They should be building houses. Whole new towns, if necessary. If I were Benevolent Empress Dictator of the World, I'd be making the rich countries send the materials/money and scouring the refugee and local populations for folks qualified to be planners/architects/foremen, and giving anyone willing and able-bodied enough to swing a hammer the opportunity to work at a job.

Even if all the construction work is temporary -- if you can provide stable living conditions, it seems that other economic opportunities might follow (as evidenced by the barbers and the shop keepers and the bakers). And yeah, building out the full infrastructure necessary for a town/settlement (water, sewage, comms, police/fire) is a massive undertaking and maybe beyond the scope of a "temporary" refugee crisis. But at least people could have solid walls.

But obviously, if it were that easy, it would be being done already.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:11 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've got people living in tents. They should be building houses.
I don't disagree with you. But, I wonder if part of the reason that doesn't happen is that everyone - the Greek government, NGOs, the refugees - are committed to viewing the situation as temporary and the population as transient. Once you build houses, you're stuck admitting that these refugees (or people much like them) are going to be there, living in limbo, for years.

If my goal were to make a new life for myself as a refugee in Greece, spending resources building a house sounds great. If instead I'm just waiting impatiently for the chance to travel to the town in Germany where my cousins live and I actively resent the local authorities because they're representatives of a political structure that's going out of its way to make my life difficult, I'd be awfully tempted to sell the donated construction tools for cigarettes and spend my time sitting in the shade drinking tea.

Which isn't to say the whole thing isn't a huge and horrible waste of human potential. Just that designing incentives to change that may be hard. I suppose you could make it explicit: spend 100 hours on a construction/medical/translation public service job, get a spot in the accelerated processing queue? Sounds objectively better than the current version, but also requires admitting that the current version is broken.

In general, I really appreciated this piece. Like everything TAL does, it's so tightly edited there's a part of me that feels manipulated. But, in this case (and, actually, in nearly every case), I'm being manipulated into feeling things that are true and important. . . so I'm grateful for the experience.

Also, is it normal to find no Arabic speakers in Greek university medical center? Yikes. That seems like a place where a tiny amount of money could have a huge impact on people's lives.
posted by eotvos at 3:34 PM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hell, if someone needs a "temporary" living space you could just build some damn hotels or motels or hostels or something, not have people live in shitty tents for years.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:11 PM on August 11, 2016

Also, is it normal to find no Arabic speakers in Greek university medical center? Yikes. That seems like a place where a tiny amount of money could have a huge impact on people's lives.

Yeah -- I totally overlooked this. Paying wages for translators at hospitals likely to see refugee patients, or even just having one or two on the staff at each of the camps seems like it should be within the scope of possibility, even without a Benevolent Empress Dictator forcing the world to allocate resources more fairly.

The Greek government may be too broke to do it, but maybe an NGO?

And when you have a woman going through a pregnancy that might kill her and you can't even talk to her and you work at a university hospital? Patras doesn't have a linguistics department but I'm sure someone on that campus speaks arabic and I bet would have been willing to volunteer an hour to help.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2016

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