Maria Karagianis visited the Mount as a Woodrow Wilson visiting fellow April 11. An award-winning journalist, Karagianis has had a lot of adventures in her life. Her talk at the Mount, however, honed in on a single experience: “Journey to Lesbos.” The title of her talk clues us in to how much of a journey this was for Karagianis, traveling back to the small island of Lesbos, Greece—just miles away from civil war torn Turkey.
Lesbos is an island where about 1,500 refugees were washed on to the shore, daily. The people of Lesbos, “even though they were in their own trouble, they would try to help” the refugees, Karagianis said.
She said when the opportunity arose to accompany an acquaintance to the island of Lesbos, her first answer was less than sure. Karagianis said, “Like all of us I see these pictures, but what can I do?”
With her background in writing and journalism (she and a team from the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism in 1975), in some serious events throughout our country, the answer she received from this acquaintance was an obvious one: “This is a catastrophe, you have to go, you have to write about it,” Karagianis said.
Taking this is as a sign, Karagianis agreed to travel to the island of Lesbos and she says it has been one that has changed her life. One of the trickier parts of traveling to Lesbos to write about the refugee camps (more like prisons, based on her description) was “if I get a press pass, they’re just going to show me what they want me to see,” Karagianis said. So she entered and traveled the country like a tourist, like a member of the community.
The refugee camp conditions were horrendous. Not only were they poorly kept, but they were dangerous to women and children. “The army patrols the outside, but nobody patrols the inside,” Karagianis said. This situation led to the creation of self-made safe spots within the camp for protection.
When Karagianis decided to give this talk, she admits, “I came home from this week a little befuddled. I didn’t go as a journalist—I went as a human. I went as a person. Just seeing something like this—what can we do about this?”
It’s a difficult question to answer, one Karagianis is still trying to uncover. Until then, she left attendees with some good advice: “Go to Lesbos, it’s beautiful and they need your help.”