We’ve spent the last six years watching refugees and economic migrants arrive in droves on the Greek mainland and islands. Statistics from UNHCR show that since 2014, when the migration crisis first began, over 1.2 million refugees have arrived in Greece. With the arrival of each wave, the line between vulnerable refugees escaping war and persecution, with those who are migrating for economic benefits, has become increasingly blurred – leaving those who are meant to sort it, in quite the conundrum.
The lack of manpower and resources managing the Greek processing centres, has left an unmanageable backlog, and a throng of dislocated people, who are turning to rioting and violence to make their point. In turn, by accepting those who are fleeing war and violence, we have seen war and violence brought to Greece. We have seen the perpetuation of a turbulent environment, which has forced our people, and our army, into a stronghold to protect its own; and the world is watching, and judging.
Since the refugee crisis began on the North-Aegean islands, the Greeks have seen increasing criticism for their supposed mismanagement and inhumane treatment of the immigrants seeking asylum. As a signatory on all related international conventions, the Greek government has held up their end of the bargain, leaving their doors open to those who have come knocking. Make no mistake; the people of Greece are not protesting in opposition of helping migrants who seek political asylum. Despite their own hardships, the local Greek people have shown warm hospitality, through the donation of clothes, food and shelter. They’ve provided subsidised transport, and in many instances cash assistance to help cover their basic needs. What the people stand against is those taking advantage of the system, and those who have, without right or reason, resorted to hostility, aggression and vandalism.
Riots are breaking out over islands such as Lesvos and Chios, who have had to resort to police, army, and MAT protection in order to try and contain the violence. We are seeing churches get vandalised, locals be assaulted, land be destroyed, and the local people have had enough. As a global community, we cannot blame the Greeks for taking a stand to protect what is their own. We cannot call them inhumane for wanting to feel safe in their own space; for wanting to protect their children, their home, and their land. When one opens up their doors to unexpected visitors to greet them with hospitality, only to be repaid with the destruction of their home, they have every right to be mad.
But herein lies the real question – with whom should we be mad? At what point did the system become so inadequate, that it resulted in a vicious conflict amongst people, across borders, and even between religions. It is at this point, we must turn our sights to the European Union, the Turkish Government, and how broken agreements, and a clash of cultures, have resulted in violent outbreaks at the Greek-Turkish border.
Late last year Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakes declared that Greece had reached its limits with the migrant crisis, and called for a new EU asylum policy. Under the current ‘Dublin Agreement’, much of the strain is put on entry-point countries such as Greece and Italy. The agreement states that the state where an asylum seeker first enters the EU, is the state responsible for examining that individual’s asylum application. The system has placed a large burden on fringe countries like Greece, that are left to deal with an overpopulation of migrants who await processing. Not only has this fostered unfavourable conditions for asylum seekers, as we’ve seen with the congregations on the Greek islands, but it puts pressure on the governing bodies to manage the situation swiftly and efficiently.
The scenario playing out on the islands right now is a clear indication of what occurs when a country doesn’t have adequate resources or assistance to manage such a mass-migration crisis. Without quick intervention from the European Commission, and the implementation of a more efficient system that distributes expectations equally across states, we can only assume this situation will spiral further out of control.
Next we must set our sights on neighbouring country, Turkey, and their role in perpetuation the vehemence we are seeing play out in Evros. This to and fro-ing of power, as Greece pushes back against Turkish forces who are encouraging the influx of migrants to storm the fence, is leading to a political dispute that can only open a bigger can of worms. Turkey continues to blackmail the EU, in a plight to capitalise on further funds from the union, despite receiving billions of Euro back in 2016 in order to house migrants. We gave Turkey the keys to our border, and the opportunity to stronghold us into giving them political leverage for their operations in Syria and Libya. From where we stand, it seems Erdogan is willing to go to great lengths to achieve his perverse political fantasy of bringing back the Ottoman, and is playing his cards – the very cards handed to him four years ago – to his advantage. It’s time we started to point the finger, and put the Turkish government in their place, before they take too big a bite out of a slice they cannot chew.
The country that had made hospitality and the welcoming of strangers a deity, is still recovering from its own crisis, both economic and cultural. Greece cannot carry the weight of the human tragedy unfolding on its shores and the tensions it is creating within civil society – often pitting Greek against Greek as the volatile politics of migration have become the daily discourse.
In other words, Greece needs to also protect the sovereignty of its soul, not just its borders.