The Tauck family is known for many things. Their eponymous company — now in its 4th generation — pioneered high-end group travel, heli-skiing and small-boat river cruises. In Westport — where many family members live — they’ve been quite generous, from renovating National Hall to helping preserve Long Island Sound. A foundation is deeply involved in aiding Bridgeport.
Robin Tauck is a travel industry leader. Her interests range from eco-tourism to helping nations and regions use travel as an economic engine.
She’s nearing the end of a 50-day odyssey in Italy and Greece. With her proximity to Turkey, Syria and the Middle East, she got a first-hand look at the mass migration of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.
On Lesbos Island, Robin — an outgoing woman who loves to learn — talked to as many people as she could: refugees, Save the Children workers, and the Lesbos mayor who, she says, “deserves a peace prize.”
Greece has already moved almost a million people from that tiny island just 6 miles off Turkey, through Athens, and on into Europe. Only 4,000 refugees remain.
Little cafes did their best to feed and warm the new arrivals. The island is lovely, Robin says, “but the people are even more beautiful. You cannot imagine how much they did.”
At the height of the smuggling operation, nearly 10,000 people a day arrived in crammed Zodiacs. (By contrast, Ellis Island — set up as an immigration center — handled 11,000 a day at its peak.) Save the Children — which moved its headquarters recently from Westport to Fairfield — now has 10 small offices in the area.
Hundreds of unaccompanied minor children were separated from parents. The kids are traumatized — and not allowed to leave the island yet.
Save the Children is focusing on them. Robin’s new friend Vasili Sofiadellis is teaching computer and coding skills. Youngsters learn English and Greek too.
“It’s not bad. But it’s not pretty,” Robin says.
The island is in the midst of cleanup. Broken boats, and enormous piles of hundreds and thousands of life jackets — “each one a life story,” she notes — are being moved from the beaches.
Robin also reports that Westporter Barbara Innamorati brought toys from Westport to Italy. They were delivered to a refugee camp on Lesbos, housing 880 people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Robin explains that Lesbos is ready to move from the “R” word (refugees) to the “T” word (tourism). Hotels are vacant; charter aircraft have stopped arriving. Holland America docked one cruise line during the crisis.
Robin told the mayor the Tauck story — including how her family emigrated to the US through Ellis Island. He said, “maybe one day some of our 800,000 refugees that made it to Europe will start a new family and new story, like yours did.”
“God bless the Greeks,” Robin says. Lesbos, and the entire country — one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations, with dozens of World Heritage Sites, beautiful island and warm hospitality — is “waiting for us to return.”
(Yesterday’s New York Times Travel section also covered the tourist scene on Lesbos, and the rest of Greece. Click here to read that story.)