A Brief Look at the September 25th Clean-up in Kavala, Greece
By Nikoleta Migdalias
GAIA FIRST Country Operations Manager for France
(Image from “The Suburban Forest of Kavala has been Turned into a "Path" for Migrants” - CENTER TV News Report, online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wii9fgBjfyw)
Tents, clothes, shoes, cell phone batteries, empty food containers, lighters. These are just some of the items discarded in the Chorafa neighborhood of Kavala, Greece, in the forest surrounding the city. The forest trail here has been transformed into a passage for foreign migrants heading west, and unfortunately into an open air rubbish bin. While other NGOs and local associations are active in Kavala and northern Greece in efforts to help migrants (such as the NGO Northern Lights Aid), the local GAIA FIRST team, in collaboration with the municipality of the city and the cultural association of Chorafa, were present on Saturday the 25th of September, 2021 in order to clean up the forest of these discarded items, some of which posing a threat as a fire hasard.
The group of roughly 20 Gaia First volunteers cleaning up the Kavala city forest on Saturday represented all age groups and were led by Gaia First’s country operations manager for Greece, Antonios Drosopoulos. Joining Gaia First in their clean-up efforts were Kavala’s own mayor, Theodoros Mouriadis, as well as the deputy mayor of sanitation and cleanliness, Kiriakos Stavridis. The cleaning operation had a duration of approximately 2 hours and 30 large bags of trash were collected. When planning this operation, Antonios Drosopoulos asked the municipality what area of town was in most need of help, and he was immediately directed towards this part of the forest which gets filled with trash at an alarming rate (it had been cleaned three days earlier and was teeming with trash again), a sign of the alarming migrant crisis that Greece has been facing for the last several years*. The question was formulated as to why the migrants are leaving behind these items, many of which are still in good condition, and the hypothesis retained was that when new items are received such as clothes, the migrants change into the new ones and discard the old.
Although the level of trash here, as seen in the CENTER TV news report, is shocking, it is not only migrants trashing the natural beauty of this Mediterranean nation. A previous Gaia First clean-up had been done in Kavala in July of 2021, at the Kalamitsa beach in the western part of town, where locals this time were the culprits littering the town’s natural areas. An alarming amount of trash was found nestled amongst the rocks near the Kalamista port, and hidden in the sand of this popular public beach.
Antonios Drosopoulos has highlighted in a previous news report on Kavala’s ENA channel that we cannot blame nor wait for governments to solve all problems. We are the start and the end of the littering problem. Governments are there to assist us, but we as individuals must take action to end this behavior and to fix these problems that we as individuals make. This is in line with the vision of Gaia First, as set out by Gianni Valenti, the association’s founder and president. We cannot wait for others and we cannot wait for future generations to clean the litter and pollution that we make. We must start now and clean it ourselves.
Of course prevention is the best medicine. Not littering in the first place and disposing of our waste within the waste management systems provided by municipalities is a prerequisite to a cleaner environment. Gaia First hopes that during their clean-ups, citizens who see their actions will take the time to think conscientiously the next time they have waste in their hand, and will discard it in the proper bins instead of letting it loose into nature. And above all, educating people to reduce waste and to reduce the use of quickly consumable products should also be a priority. This goes hand in hand with producers taking responsibility to make products and packaging in a more environmentally friendly way. A recent ban in Europe on the sale of many single-use plastics, which will progressively be expanded into an overhaul of the way plastics are designed, produced, used and recycled in the EU, is a bright star on the horizon and a goal to be expanded worldwide.
But as mentalities and behaviors slowly evolve, Gaia First’s current goal is cleaning up. Whether in the context of local actions, like this clean-up in Kavala, Greece, or in the context of their broader Ocean cleanup project, Gaia First and its members wish to make the world a cleaner place.
* European law (the Dublin Regulation) obliges migrants to seek asylum in the country in which they first entered into Europe. As many migrant routes now push migrants into Greece by land or sea through Turkey, Greece has become a prison of sorts for migrants wishing to reach Western Europe.