The departure of 30 refugees from Athens International Airport to Luxembourg was one of those events where the staging overshadowed, and spoiled, the symbolism.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admitted that 30 people among the quarter of a million who have landed in Greece in 2015 alone was “a drop in the ocean”. It was probably the most sincere phrase that was heard in this ceremonious affair.
After months of inertia and hundreds of people drowning in the Aegean, the European Union officials heralded the successful relocation of 30 people as a giant leap. The Greek government allowed only public broadcaster ERT (a state-owned enterprise) to cover the ceremony. One wonders why.
Despite the goofy smiles of political leaders and proclamations of solidarity, compassion, and heart-warming wishes, all the things that look good on the 8:00 o’clock news, the ceremony was difficult to upstage, yet more footage of crying survivors who mourned the loss of loved ones was playing on another channel.
It was a sad and hypocritical affair. No matter how many bleeding-heart clichés came out of the lips of Tsipras, the European Union Commissioner on Migration, the President of the European Parliament, and all the other officials, the truth remains that very little has been done to tackle the refugee crisis. And no public word whatsoever on the hundreds of smugglers who run daily routes of death on rickety boats.
Because for the 30 refugees who flew to safety on Wednesday, another 30 lost their lives in the past three days in Greek waters alone. Not to mention the tens of thousands waiting to depart for their destination, even without the comfort of an airplane or the pretentious handshake of a politician.
Watching this “let’s show our compassion and win some votes” party, it was easy to notice that the EU officials, accounted for ironically added up to more people than the 30 refugees being relocated. The whole thing was more staged than a WWF fight.
Behind the cameras, of course, there was a game of give and take with Tspiras and EU leaders along the lines of “If I keep more refugees in my backyard, will you loosen up my bailout obligations?”
After all compassion is not free.