Special CD pricks up Greek ears to refugee issues

News Stories, 26 August 2003

© UNHCR Athens
Making music with a cause: (from left) Emma Shapplin, George Dalaras and Greek Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos, during UNHCR's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2001.

ATHENS, Greece (UNHCR) Thousands of young refugees in Greece have found a voice, thanks to a just-concluded awareness- and fund-raising campaign that brought together renowned musicians, the media and the financial world to raise more than 30,000 euros for refugee children's projects.

The campaign hit a high note when a special CD was released in February with Ta Nea newspaper's weekend magazine, Tahydromos. The CD combined the selfless work of a group of musicians who worked for free. Among them were Greek singer George Dalaras and French soprano Emma Shapplin, who had first collaborated in two concerts to celebrate UNHCR's 50th anniversary in 2001. They were backed by the Fons Musicalis Choir and the Kamerata Orchestra, and funded by OPAP, the Greek Football Lottery Organization.

The complimentary CD was widely distributed as part of Tahydromos, one of Greece's most widely read weekend journals. There was also an editorial and an eight-page article based on interviews conducted with refugees and their children at the Nausica reception centre in Athens.

Through the article, one began to understand the complexities of living in refuge, the struggles that come with experiencing an unstable life as a child, and the threat of never knowing what lies around the corner. Readers were reminded that refugees are real people with feelings and capabilities, whose goal, predetermined for them, is to live as accepted citizens within a society in which persecution is not the driving force.

The CD and accompanying article also successfully drew attention to a special bank account that UNHCR Athens opened with the National Bank of Greece in order to receive funds to benefit refugee children. The bank itself donated 6,000 euros to support the effort and allowed 2,000 posters to be placed in its branch offices around the country. By the time the campaign ended in July, over 30,000 euros had been raised.

Dalaras' participation lent a personal touch to the campaign because he is himself from a refugee family. His mother arrived in Greece in 1922 after fleeing Turkey with over 1 million Greeks. In his early years, the family lived in extreme poverty and had to live in huts. To survive, the singer had to do manual labour in his early teens and attend school only in the evening.

At a press conference earlier this year, Dalaras implored the Greek public to donate, saying that refugees "live with a pain, which as Euripides said is the greatest on earth: the loss of one's homeland. In this way, being children of refugees ourselves, we are doing nothing more today than remembering all of this with two songs."

Pantelis Kapsis, the director of Ta Nea newspaper, added, "Refugees and refugee youth are a reservoir of talent and creativity and can become valuable members of society, provided they survive. We all have the obligation to help refugees survive."

Alexander Myrat, the director of the Kamerata Orchestra, who offered his talent for the cause, accurately summarised the campaign's aspirations: "I wish there were more occasions like this, whereby music is not just a means of entertainment, but also the bearer of a humanistic and social message."

By Ketty Kehayioylou and Ariadne Papagapitou
UNHCR Greece




UNHCR country pages

George Dalaras and UNHCR

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George Dalaras Biography

A star among the pantheon of stars.

George Dalaras

George Dalaras

The makeshift camp at Patras

Thousands of irregular migrants, some of whom are asylum-seekers and refugees, have sought shelter in a squalid, makeshift camp close to the Greek port of Patras since it opened 13 years ago. The camp consisted of shelters constructed from cardboard and wood and housed hundreds of people when it was closed by the Greek government in July 2009. UNHCR had long maintained that it did not provide appropriate accommodation for asylum-seekers and refugees. The agency had been urging the government to find an alternative and put a stronger asylum system in place to provide appropriate asylum reception facilities for the stream of irregular migrants arriving in Greece each year.The government used bulldozers to clear the camp, which was destroyed by a fire shortly afterwards. All the camp residents had earlier been moved and there were no casualties. Photographer Zalmaï, a former refugee from Afghanistan, visited the camp earlier in the year.

The makeshift camp at Patras

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

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Greece: Ramping up refugee reception

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Serbia: Presevo Crossing from FYR MacedoniaPlay video

Serbia: Presevo Crossing from FYR Macedonia

On October 20, the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece passed the half million mark. Their ultimate destination is northern Europe. The majority will take a route that goes from Greece, to FYR Macedonia and then onward through Serbia. At the border point of Presevo, Serbia they must go through a registration process before being allowed to continue their onward journey.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward JourneyPlay video

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward Journey

A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.