Since January 2015, more than 500,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Over 2 million are still either on the way or on the Turkish-Syrian borders. Europe must deal with this.
A clear European response to the “refugee crisis” demands a direct and sincere look at the situation which refugees and asylum seekers are going through. If we talk about refugees, we need to think of their situation and how they ended up here. Otherwise we do not talk about the refugees, but about ourselves and our own priorities.
In this particular moment most Greeks tend to be very supportive of the refugees and their situation. Combined with the economic and social crisis Greece is going through for the seventh consecutive year, the refugees have become in a sense the “others in need” for many Greeks.
Most Greeks are now coming to grips with the fact that the refugee influx is a situation that will persist for many years as long as the European Union does not consider its responsibilities in terms of how the situation initially begun, and how it can be resolved. Refugees are here for the long haul.
European politicians are disempowered. They literally have no power at all! Alarming as this is, it is the truth considering that in this long line of events there was no effective political action, neither in Greece nor in any other European country. There is no plan!
This lack of direction is exemplified by the EU-Turkey deal of sending “new irregular migrants” arriving in Greece back to Turkey. For many reasons that are impossible to analyse here, I seriously doubt if this new deal will change the situation. I will only mention one reason, and that is the application of the Geneva Convention by Turkey. Turkey maintains that the provisions of the declaration apply ”only to persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe”, and also the reservation clause made upon ratification of the Convention to the effect that no provision of this Convention may be interpreted as granting to refugees greater rights than those accorded to Turkish citizens in Turkey.
Greeks know this; European officials know this; so I wonder how much pretense is left to be hidden behind this deal. The deal will, in many ways, worsen the situation for refugees. It only buys time for some European politicians who see their political careers crumble in the aftermath of this crisis.
What we need in Greece, and indeed Europe, is a common strategy to address the issues of refugees. It is not simply about registration and documentation. It is also about making them feel safe. This is why they are here – to feel safe. If we deprive them from that feeling we are no better than those who drove them out of their countries.
A relocation plan is also essential, in terms of providing those initiatives that will help refugees understand that a good place for them is a place in which they will feel welcomed. Most of them enter Europe in order to go to Germany or Sweden or a European country with high social benefits. In the long term however this is not a solution for them. They need to be counseled and intensely informed of the opportunities the may have in any European country.
Consequently, education and guidance initiatives are important in this respect, both in Greece and in the whole of Europe. The Greek government recognises this, but it has not progressed much so far in implementing a concrete grid of activities that would enable volunteers and NGOs to implement education programmes.
As a last note, the Greek government has been fiercely criticised by a growing number of its counterparts in the EU, ever since the refugee flows began to increase so drastically. This criticism is unfounded for a number of reasons.
First, arrivals since the beginning of 2015 have gone up by 1972% compared to 2014, with more than 500,000 refugees having landed on the island of Lesvos alone. Second, the Greek state has so far spent €350.6 million supporting the refugees, and is planning to spend another €112 million in the coming years. At the same time, and despite difficulties and financial burdens, new Reception Facilities are being prepared on the Aegean Sea islands and in the Attica region.
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