Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday said the Greek government had launched a special programme for the accommodation and upbringing of some 4,000 homeless children and unaccompanied minors among refugees.
Mitsotakis during a cabinet discussion said the step was taken in a bid to keep them the homeless children away from crime and exploitation.
“We will promptly set up accommodation facilities for 4,000 children who currently survive in terrible conditions.
“Each facility will accommodate small groups for them to live and be nurtured as appropriate in their tender age.
“They will receive the help of teachers, doctors and psychologists as well as warmth that they, unfortunately, do not receive from parents.’’
Mitsotakis vowed to take the underage homelessness problem under personal control, adding that the children must be prevented from becoming victims of or getting involved in exploitation and crime.
“Those criminals who dare to torture and trade children must know that the government will prosecute them without mercy and punish them without mercy, liberating innocent beings from their hands.’’
The programme is designed to transfer 2,500 minors from refugee camps and 1,300 homeless children from the streets, where they are currently struggling to survive, to facilities for long-term accommodation and care.
According to government representatives speaking to journalists, each new facility will also provide legal advice for children with relatives in other countries who want to reunite with their families.
Additionally, the unaccompanied minor status will be codified so that such children can apply for asylum and have their rights protected.
The programme will be partially financed by the European Union.
There are approximately 60 of such facilities in Greece at the moment, providing for close to 1,200 children.
Mostly, they are run by NGOs and under the auspices of the International Organisation for Migration.
Greece is among the European countries that have faced the greatest numbers of refugee arrivals over the past years.
The Greek reception facilities became overcrowded long ago, but people continue to arrive, thousands of unaccompanied children among them.
In September, hundreds of such children initiated a violent conflict in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, demanding transfer to the mainland.
Edited & Vetted By: Hadiza Mohammed/Donald Ugwu
3rd generation Greek sandal maker carries on centuries-old craft
The first thing that welcomes the visitor to the tiny store of Olgianna Melissinos in the heart of Monastiraki, the old commercial district at the foothills of the Acropolis in the Greek capital, is the overpowering smell of genuine leather.
Against the backdrop of finely made sandals, belts and bags, old photos and framed articles that cover the walls floor to ceiling, and a radio playing calm instrumental music in the background, Olgianna and her husband Christos work tirelessly — but cheerfully — behind their benches.
Olgianna is a third-generation shoemaker, as her grandfather started the family business in 1920 specializing in climbing boots and luxury shoes. In the 1950s her father Stavros took over the business and, shortly after, an interesting proposal came his way.
“At some point, a choreographer came by his shop and asked him to make ancient Greek-style sandals for a performance. He did so, he liked the venture and made a few extra pairs for sale in his store,” Melissinos told Xinhua.
Extremely common during the ancient Greek and Roman times, sandals have a celebrated, centuries-old history in Greece, documented by various artifacts unearthed by archaeologists. But by the 1960s, when Melissinos took that order, the art of sandal making had almost died out, as open shoes were not popular or even considered socially unacceptable at the time.
“His neighbors made fun of him. They told him ‘no one is going to buy these things you make’. But he laughed and said ‘never mind, someone will’.”
Artistic by nature, Melissinos, dubbed “the poet-sandal maker” because of his talent for poetry and playwriting, saw the project as a challenge to his creativity.
“He started designing sandals on his own but also ‘stealing’ designs he saw on ancient statues, frescoes, depictions of ancient Greek sandals — he studied a lot. And he started experimenting,” Melissinos said. The first pair was sold in no time. “In a matter of a few years, this whole neighborhood changed and even those who were skeptical at the beginning started making sandals,” she added.
Greece experienced its first major tourism boom during that period and the liberal fashion trends of the time helped establish sandals as an iconic fashion item, a symbol of timeless simplicity and elegance, a shoe equally enjoyed by celebrities and hitchhikers, all basking in the Greek summer.
Nowadays, the sandal, in its countless variations, forms, materials and colors, remains the top go-to summer footwear. And the tiny store that was one of the first to make sandals again in modern Greek history is now featured in sophisticated travel guides and prestigious fashion magazines. But as Melissinos said, word of mouth is their biggest marketing weapon.
According to the sandal maker, quality and craftsmanship make the difference. In her store, everything is handmade of genuine leather by Christos and herself: sandals, belts, wallets, handbags. They do not give the impression that they are in a rush. They take the time to care for every little detail, to think of aesthetics, to add that tiny touch that makes every handmade product in the world unique. Their customers can have the sandal of their choice fitted on their feet, they can ask for little tweaks or even different color straps to create a sandal as close to their needs and taste as possible.
“There is a whole story behind this store proving that the shoes are made with talent and craft. There is an atmosphere, they adjust the shoes to your size, you can pick the colors. In 10 minutes, they can give you a totally personalized pair of sandals. It is a very nice souvenir from Athens,” confirmed French traveler Diane Petit just after she had her own pair custom-fitted by Christos.
“Approximately 70-80 percent of our orders are ‘sur mesure,’ because we also want to achieve the perfect fit… We want to have a personal relationship with our customers,” Melissinos stressed.
And just as the Melissinos family craftsmanship has passed down to the third generation, so has the loyalty of their customers.
“I was very moved one time when I made small sandals for the great-grandchild of one of my father’s customers. It really counts when you are being honest and straight with your customers. The loyalty and the love they show you can go a long way, for generations,” the sandal maker explained.
As most sectors of the Greek economy, small and medium-sized shoe making industries suffered a severe blow during the decade-long economic crisis. Several manufacturers were forced out of business or moved out of Greece to where labor was cheaper.
It was a very difficult time for her business, Melissinos recalled, but she refused to compromise on the quality of her products in order to lower the prices. As she said, what kept the small business afloat was foreign customers, but also a shift in the mentality of Greeks.
“We worked hard, and I believe that our customers –especially the Greeks — rewarded us, because they also returned to the mentality of buying one top quality product rather than 10, which are not of good quality,” she stressed, referring to a big part of Greek society that was prone to hyperconsumerism before the crisis.
Of course, making unique, handmade products when trends in fashion are changing fast is not an easy task. It takes time, it costs more and has a small profit margin — but for Melissinos it is a personal choice.
“You have to love it and then you can make your clientele love it too,” she explained.
Melissinos is confident that handmade crafts not only are not dying but are being reinvented and highly appreciated by more and more people.
“We have customers who tell us ‘I was very happy that I kept these (sandals) for 10 or 15 years. We had a great time ‘together’ and they refer to all the places these sandals took them to, and how they connected emotionally with them,” she said.
Over the past years, more and more travelers have visited Melissinos’s store with a travel guide in their hands. Tourists today are more sophisticated, they are looking for authentic experiences and products, they do not shop randomly, the sandal maker claimed.
And lately, visitors from China have joined the store’s most valued group of customers.
“They are always on the lookout for good quality products. They even take more time to decide because this is something new to them. But once they trust you, they become your best customers. I think you have to gain their trust,” Melissinos said.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic has made things much more difficult for this small business. With approximately half of their customers coming from abroad, and with travel restrictions that are prone to change at any moment, Olgianna and Christos are faced with uncertainty. But combining art with technology, they run an e-shop that ships worldwide and are optimistic that they will be able to welcome their friends back in Athens soon.
Turkey ready to host confidence-building meeting with Greece: minister
Turkey told Greece that Ankara is ready to host the fourth meeting for confidence-building measures between the two neighbors, semi-official Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
“We notified the other party that we are ready to hold the fourth meeting in Ankara. We expect the Greek side to attend these meetings,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters late Wednesday in Ankara.
Akar recalled that two of the previous meetings for confidence-building measures were held in Athens, while one of the same kinds was held in Ankara.
Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have escalated in recent days amid Greece’s concerns over Turkish military build-up to conduct seismic research in the waters between Turkey and Libya following a maritime delimitation deal with the North African country.
Ankara and Athens recently launched talks mediated by Germany to solve differences in the eastern Mediterranean. The two neighbors have also been holding negotiations for a while between the military officials in a bid to realize confidence-building measures aimed at preventing confrontations in the Aegean Sea.
Turkey and Greece have a series of ongoing disagreements over their respective continental shelves in the Aegean Sea, as well as the militarization of certain Aegean islands and Cyprus.
Turkey, Greece need dialogue to settle Aegean, Mediterranean disputes: experts
NATO allies and neighbors Turkey and Greece need to engage in a constructive dialogue for a viable settlement to their long-standing disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas that recently flared up again, experts said.
Tensions spiked last week when Turkey announced its plan to send a research vessel in contested areas south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastellorizo for energy explorations.
The plan was criticized by the United States, France and other European countries, while the Turkish boat Oruc Reis has remained anchored off the southeast Turkish port of Antalya pending further decision.
Turkey accuses Greece of trying to exclude it from energy exploitation in the East Mediterranean, arguing that Greek islands, some of which very close to the Turkish coast, should not be included in exclusive economic zones.
“The only method to settle conflicts between Greece and Turkey is dialogue. No matter how complex the disputes are, dialogue is paramount in avoiding confrontations between two neighbors,” Mustafa Nail Alkan, a professor of international relations from the Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, told Xinhua.
The scholar gave the example of France and Germany, two European neighboring nations which fought many battles over centuries but managed to find a “marriage of convenience” after the Second World War and laid the foundations of what is now the European Union.
“If the two countries as ancient foes succeeded in finding a path to live together in peace, why can’t Turkey and Greece, which share a common culture and have all to gain from good neighborly relations, resolve their disagreements in peaceful ways?” Alkan noted, warning that an armed conflict would jeopardize regional geopolitics and both vulnerable economies.
In fact, Athens and Ankara have both expressed willingness to diffuse tensions after reported attempts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prevent a military confrontation between the two allies by contacting leaders of Turkey and Greece for a de-escalation of tensions, according to German reports.
Stelios Petsas, spokesman of the Greek government, said on Monday that Turkey was withdrawing navy vessels from the area, adding Greece remained ready to enter negotiations with Turkey “within the framework of international law and good neighborly relations.”
A day later, Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara will hold off on surveying the seabed in the disputed area to allow for diplomacy.
Turkey is also seeking a discussion with Greece about issues surrounding the countries’ continental shelves, air space and offshore hydrocarbon exploration, Kalin said in an interview with CNNTurk news channel.
Turkey is ready to enter comprehensive negotiations with Greece “without preconditions,” he noted.
“Turkey’s decision to suspend its drilling activities is a good sign that it prioritizes diplomacy and dialogue before military means,” Tulin Daloglu, an independent analyst and columnist on Turkish foreign policy, told Xinhua.
Turkey and Greece came to the brink of a war in 1996 in a sovereignty dispute over uninhabited islets known as Kardak in Turkish and Imia in Greek. The confrontation was averted after a United States intervention.
The NATO allies launched in the aftermath of this crisis a series of diplomatic talks but didn’t obtain any tangible results.
Turkey rescues 228 illegal immigrants off Aegean coast in past 3 days
The Turkish coast guard rescued a total of 228 illegal immigrants in several separate incidents during the last three days till Wednesday off Turkey’s Aegean coast, the coast guard announced on its website.
The first incident happened off the Bozburun Peninsula in Turkey’s southwestern province of Mugla when the Greek coast guard teams pushed 23 immigrants back to Turkey in a life raft on Monday, the force said in a statement.
Near the same location, the Turkish teams rescued another 60 asylum-seekers in a wooden boat drifting in the sea on the same day, it added.
The immigrants claimed that they were forced to sail back to Turkish territorial waters after their mobile phones and money were taken by the Greek coast guard teams, according to press reports.
In three other incidents off the western provinces of Izmir and Balikesir, the teams also rescued a total of 126 immigrants whose boats were pushed back to Turkey by the Greek units.
Additionally, the coast guard saved 19 immigrants off Turkey’s northwestern province of Canakkale from a boat that had an engine failure, according to another statement.
Since the start of this year, a total of 13,041 immigrants attempted to reach Greece via Turkey’s seas, down from 17,516 over the same period in 2019, according to the latest figures released by the Turkish coast guard.
The Aegean Sea was once the main route for immigrants trying to reach Europe via Turkey. A deal was signed between Turkey and the European Union in March 2016 to curb the flow of illegal immigration.