The Tragic Flood Inundates Greece
The Greeks themselves instantly undertook to solve the problem of their refugee brethren, unaided and alone. The Smyrna disaster began on September 9, 1922. In October the Greeks of Old Greece had perfected a non-governmental organization to deal with the rapidly arriving horde of refugees, and had raised a large sum of money for this purpose. This bold and humane enterprise was a daring thing for private individuals to undertake, but it was made necessary by the supineness—worse, by the hostility—of the King and his government, who feared that the newcomers would ascribe their sufferings (as they rightly did) to the blunders of the monarchy and were loath to strengthen the hands of the refugees even with bread and shelter.
The success of the unofficial national relief work was due primarily to Mr. Epaminondas Charilaos, a leading industrialist of Greece, who was a self-made man of great energy and courage. He had the very able cooperation of Mr. Etienne Delta, president of the Greek Red Cross, and many other patriotic citizens. At the instance of Mr. Charilaos, and under his leadership, these men organized the Refugee Treasury Fund.
The origin and the noteworthy achievements of the Refugee Treasury Fund, in relieving the refugees, cannot be better described than in Mr. Charilaos's own words, which he used to recount his stewardship as its president. On October 31, 1923, the fund was disbanded, to make way for the international Refugee Settlement Commission, set up by the League of Nations to carry on the whole work of relief under my chairmanship, beginning early in the following month. On that occasion Mr. Charilaos delivered a memorable address, which I have caused to be translated and which I here print in part because it gives a very striking account of a most remarkable achievement:
The Refugee Treasury Fund was formed in October, 1922. The discussions of the Great Committee for the study of all refugee matters brought out clearly that only through an independent, non-political organization could something be done. It was therefore decided to entrust the settlement of the refugees dictatorially to one person, as was done in France for the reconstruction and settlement of the devastated provinces after the Great War.
This proposal being partially accepted on behalf of Mr. Doxiades, the Minister of Providence and Security, we ended the interminable discussions of the Great Committee by the formation of the Refugee Treasury Fund.
The funds were administered by a council, in which all social parties were represented and also various government services.
The Refugee Treasury Fund was established by a decree of law, and was headed by a board of fifteen members. Some of these were higher clerks of the various ministries, whilst others were representatives of the commercial and Industrial Chamber of Commerce of Athens and Piraeus, and of the Professionals' on federation. Five other members were appointed by the Minister of Providence and Security.
The income of the Fund included all private contributions for the refugees, and all amounts which the government placed to its disposal for certain defined purposes.
The Fund organized over twenty sub-committees, at Piraeus, Volo, Salonica, Larissa, Patras, Edessa, etc.
The General Board elected an Executive Board of three members, which, without any further formalities, could order the execution of any work, fix the method of executing the work, and determine the amount of expenditure.
In actual practice, the carrying out of the plans of the Fund, and also the executive direction of the work, was managed by the president personally and on his sole responsibility. This confidence that was invested in me by the board, and the consequent authority that I had to take any decision promptly in urgent cases, account for the greater part of the success of the Fund.
The Fund not only continued the work of helping the refugees with emergency relief, but also undertook their permanent settlement. At its first meeting, therefore, the General Board decided to use all private contributions to pay for the purchase and distribution of medicines, blankets, clothing, and other articles of first necessity; and to use all governmental allowances for the permanent civic settlement of the refugees.
In execution of the first of these intentions, the Refugee Treasury Board distributed to the refugees (through the Patriotic Establishment and Ladies' Committee at Athens, and also through their annexes and committees in the provinces) 200,000 blankets, 2,000 beds, thousands of mattresses, about 2,000 bundles of clothing (forwarded mostly from America), as well as many other things, such as medicines to be sent to the various hospitals and also to the various provincial committees. They distributed to refugee hospitals and to children, through the same committees, many thousands of cases of milk, either purchased or coming as contributions from America. In relation with these contributions, we must specially mention the Pan-Ionian Corporation in America, which forwarded thousands of cases of milk, flour, and clothing.
The Fund granted to foreign relief organizations the money required to transport flour that had been supplied gratis. The Fund also paid for the fuel used in common by the refugees for cooking the common meals.
All refugees under trans-shipment were promptly supplied with the flour that was forwarded from America. On account of the Fund's excellent organization, and because no formalities stood in the way, these things were done quickly, and thus, without any exaggeration, the death of thousands of refugees was prevented.
Where no foreign organizations were installed, or where they were not sufficient, or where the government was unable to give any assistance, the Refugee Treasury Fund itself did what was needed, at any time of the day or night.
At the Lazarette of St. George the first crowded lot of refugees landed. They were cleaned, dressed, and fed until they could be transported to their settlement sites.
The Fund undertook afterward at Athens and Pirseus the sanitary service of the refugee settlements, until the Ministry of Providence and Security instructed this work in part to special government services. The Refugee Treasury Fund undertook also the evacuation of the night-soil pits of the settlements, a very needful, but also difficult, service. It distributed approximately 300,000 okes of soap (equal to 400 tons), thereby helping to prevent epidemic diseases. When, notwithstanding, epidemics of smallpox and typhus broke out, the Fund undertook the supply and the carrying out of all measures necessary to check these diseases.
The Fund provided the technical personnel for the formation and repair of numerous hospitals. They also supplied medicaments, clothing, tools, furniture, kitchen utensils, restaurant utensils, and very often also foodstuffs. They supplied beds, blankets, and tents for the above hospitals, and also for many provincial ones. They constructed wooden houses for over two hundred beds at various hospitals. They supplied motor transportation for the ill the fuel for the ovens at 30 per cent, less cost than current estimates; repaired hygienic instruments; supplied disinfectants; and constructed over one thousand de-lousing machines at one third of the cost that had been indicated as necessary by a competition carried out. by the Department of Health.
The success of the Fund in rendering this prompt and efficient aid was due largely to our accuracy in forecasting the necessities to be met in proportion to the funds available; and to our early analysis of the various indispensable requirements of the refugees. The utmost economy and judgment were exercised, though it must be remembered that on many occasions the urgency of the necessities did not allow time for full investigation, or for free operation and choice.
Parallel with these emergency operations of relief, the Treasury Fund had to execute also the very difficult work of urban settlement of the refugees. (The part of this work that concerned settlement of refugees on the land was undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture.) The government decided to begin the erection of the first permanent urban settlement at Pangrati, utilizing at that site an area of approximately one hundred stremmas. [Note: A stremma is equivalent to about one fourth of an acre.]
The reason for the immediate erection of this settlement was the desire of the Ministry of Public Instruction that the refugees should evacuate at least some of the school buildings. After a long investigation of the matter by the engineers and myself, final plans were drawn up and carried into execution.
Everything necessary for the settlement, including schools, baths, workshops, parks, gardens, squares, suitable tracing of roads, and even future extensions, were foreseen in the plan. An up-to-date, scientific system of sanitary dry pits was made. A water tank overlooking the settlement was built, a complete system of piping was installed, and an elevation pump with a complete machine house and independent power plant was constructed.
A machine and carpenter shop was also erected, which was utilized to do much of the wood working of the settlement.
In order quickly to finish the houses it was decided to distribute the execution of the work to numerous contractors, allowing them to utilize various systems of construction. The awarding of contracts was by competitive bids. Over two hundred well-known and honest contractors submitted sealed tenders. Thus we managed this operation of the Fund as efficiently as if it had been our own private work.
The contract for the construction of the first 800 houses was awarded to four contractors, who commenced the work during the end of December. I must emphasize the zeal and energy that were demonstrated by all of them, particularly as it must be considered that it was the first time such construction work was ever undertaken on such a scale in Greece, so that there was absolutely no previous experience to guide them. Likewise, essential materials were missing, organization was lacking, and trained help was scarce.
The unit prices of the successful bidders were judged by everybody to be satisfactory. The facilities made available to| the contractors, and the prompt payment of weekly ac-counts due to them, were the principal reasons why that Fund got such good prices.
The execution of the work was so satisfactory that during. April the first refugees were settled in the houses.
The results achieved at Pangrati demonstrated what were the most suitable methods of construction and arrangement of the dwellings. The procedure followed there having been accepted by the government, it now decided to spend; larger amounts for further urban settlements, and we there-fore next studied the most suitable sites for the location of these settlements. Sites at Podarades and also in the valley of Kaisariani were approved at Athens, and Kokkinia at Piraeus, as being situated not far from the towns and as having the advantages of an easy local water supply. Settlements were also projected for Volo, Patras, Eleusis, Salonica, Edessa, etc.
We now organized a technical staff, employed engineers, established a control-office, and set up an inspection service, with the necessary supervisors, controllers, and warehouse keepers.
In awarding contracts for these later settlements, we tried always to prefer those giving the most efficient guarantees, wherever these offered equally satisfactory prices. Wherever possible we utilized the refugees themselves as contractors or sub-contractors, and required them to use, so far as possible, only refugee labor.
Thus, of a total of 77 contractors, 34 were refugees, and of a total of 5,900 laborers, 5,488 were refugees.
Supplies were generally purchased through public competitions, or through requested offers from various parties, or by an open adjudication. In special and urgent cases, they were obtained by special agreements after carefully studying the market. This system of course adds greatly to the responsibilities of the administrator, but as long as he does not fear these responsibilities, and is familiar with the persons and matters, this system is the one that gives the best results. If the various markets should be attentively examined it will be proved that very special prices were obtained for governmental services. Taking also into consideration that in the present instance rapidity of execution was a capital object, and that any delay merely that certain formalities should be followed, would have brought great losses, we shall, I hope, be justified by all that we acted correctly.
A total of 12,000 rooms has been built or is under construction, besides 2,500 rooms at Eleusis, Volo, Salonica, Agrinion, Patras, /Egion, and Edessa.
The foregoing is a summary of work concerning which I asked to be allowed to report, and regarding which I considered that I was under obligation to do so I received the presidency of the Fund at a time when the refugee problem was spread all over the Greek coast, and I undertook it in order to elaborate a system and draw up a service and a plan to contribute to the security and the salvation of the refugees. We all worked for over a year in order to accomplish these things. Owing to the wise and noble cooperation of all the members of the board and the employees, and owing to the vast confidence of the Minister of Public Assistance, we succeeded in all the things I have mentioned.
I do not ignore the fact that the system of concentrated authority, which I followed, approached in a way to absolutism; nor that I very likely touched other men's ambitions, weaknesses, and perhaps their interests. By all those whose ambitions I may have thwarted, I beg to ask in a friendly way to be excused. The work has been common for all of us.
In conclusion, I would emphasize that the employees and collaborators who have been engaged in this work have all shown a wonderful self-denial.