Author: George Kitsaras
Editor-in-Chief / Psychologist / Doctoral Researcher
“The suppliants” is a play by Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC), the first in his tetralogy entitled “The Danaid Tetralogy”. The play revolves around the Danaides, the daughters of Danaus, son of Belus. At the beginning of the play, the Danaides flee with their father to Argos in an attempt to avoid the forced marriage to their Egyptian cousins, the sons of King Aegyptus, twin brother of Danaus. When they arrived in Argos, Pelasgus, the king of the city, demanded an explanation. The Danaides explained the situation and quickly requested asylum and protection from their Egyptian cousins. Pelasgus was in an unprecedented dilemma: to offer asylum to the Danaides risking an attack by the sons of Aegyptus that could compromise his city and his people or deny their request potentially infuriating the Gods and especially Zeus, the protector of the suppliants? Following a dramatic plea by the Danaides and facing with their threat to commit suicide if he refuses their request, Pelasgus defers the request to his people, the Argives. With the majority of the Argives in favour of protecting the Danaides, Pelasgus offers them full protection against the Egyptians. To show their gratitude to Pelasgus and the Argives, the Danaides decorated the temples of Argos with olive branches.
Similar dilemmas, different approaches.
Despite some differences, the story of the Danaides acts as an important allegory for the similar dilemma facing my destination countries across the Continent; on one hand, to protect and care for those in need (refugees=Danaides) and on the other hand, prioritise the survival and longevity of their people and countries (people=Argives / countries=Argos). This dilemma is particular crucial in today’s worst refugee and migrant crisis since the end of the Second World War (UNHCR, 2015).
From the thoughtful and organised plans for the management and integration of refugees in Sweden to the unexpectedly progressive policies for refugees in Uganda, tens of countries around the world faced a dilemma similar to the one that Pelasgus faced: are there “red lines” regarding who and how many people someone can realistically help? Who and how can make such decision? Is it a collective process or is it an undeniable human right that needs to be preserved no matter what?
The Geneva Convention of 1951 and the New York Protocol of 1967 have created an ecumenic framework for the status and the protection of refugees alongside the responsibilities each country has in protecting them (United Nations, 1951; United Nations, 1967). Despite that, day after day, more and more countries around the world due to internal disagreements, public discord, the rise of ultra-right/fascist movements as well as strained finances are moving away from these ecumenical obligations (Bordignon & Moriconi, 2017; Summers (the Guardian), 2017; Traub (Foreign Policy), 2016).
Today, in the Summer of 2018, and in places like Greece and across Europe the urgency and the scale of the refugee and migration crisis is regularly downplayed by the media and political figures. Nevertheless, millions of people around the world are still facing enormous daily struggles. For all those trapped in refugee camps or for those waiting for a decision on their asylum applications providing an answer to Pelasgus dilemma is not a mere philosophical matter but a matter of life or death. The existence of treaties and protocols cannot guarantee a much-needed panhuman approach enriched with true solidarity and respect to all the suppliants out there. Once, it was up to the people of Argos to decide the fate of the Danaides and the Argives didn’t let them down. Now it’s time for each and all of us, like modern Argives, to show that we really care.
In place of an epilogue
Aeschylus, The Suppliants, v.418-422
Take counsel, and, as is thy sacred duty, prove thyself our righteous champion. Betray not the fugitive who hath been impiously cast out and driven afar.
Φρόντισον καὶ γενοῦ πανδίκως εὐσεβὴς πρόξενος· τὰν φυγάδα μὴ προδῷς, τὰν ἕκαθεν ἐκβολαῖς δυσθέοις ὀρμέναν·
Bordignon, M., & Moriconi, S. (2017). The case for a common European refugee policy (No. 19605). Bruegel.
Summers. H. “Tensions rise as Uganda refugee policy is pushed to breaking point”. The Guardian [London], May, 20, 2017.
Traub J. “The death of the most generous nation on earth”. Foreign Policy [Washington, DC]. February, 10, 2016.
United Nations General Assembly. 1951. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations: New York.
United Nations General Assembly, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 31 January 1967, United Nations: New York.
United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees. 2015. Global Trends: Forced Displacement 2015. United Nations: Geneva.