Greece coping with refugee crisis

| March 22, 2016 | 0 Comments
Syrian refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. (Photo: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett)

Syrian refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. (Photo: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett)

Population displacement and its resulting migration is, as we know, a complex issue and one of the major challenges the European Union is currently facing. The intense migratory and refugee flows Greece has experienced for years have reached unprecedented levels in the last several months.
Since January 2015, more than 950,000 refugees and migrants have entered Greece. Average daily arrivals from Turkey to Greece stood at 2,186 in January  2016 alone. The limits of our infrastructure to receive those refugees are constantly being tested.
After being disproportionately burdened, Greece, which is situated at the EU’s external border, continues to do its utmost to rescue refugees fleeing war after their perilous journey in the Aegean Sea. To date, Greece has rescued 150,000 people from the waters of the Aegean. My country has put tremendous effort into rescuing those people in need and receiving them in a humane way on our frontline islands, with the aid and mobilization of the local population.
Sea borders do not in any way resemble land borders. No fence can be erected. Once refugees and migrants embark on a boat from the Turkish coast, search and rescue operations are activated.
My country believes we must address this issue in terms of humanitarianism and human rights because these principles are the basis of civilization in Europe and in Greece.

Nojeen, a16-year-old Syrian refugee, who uses a wheelchair due to a balance problem, waits to be lifted to the road. She and her older sister landed on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing from Turkey, in hopes of finding better medical care. Greek authorities are looking after her. (Photo: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett)

Nojeen, a16-year-old Syrian refugee, who uses a wheelchair due to a balance problem, waits to be lifted to the road. She and her older sister landed on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing from Turkey, in hopes of finding better medical care. Greek authorities are looking after her. (Photo: © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett)

For years now, Greece has been underscoring the need for co-ordinated European action with regard to the management of the refugee and migration crisis.
The refugee crisis has revealed the limits and shortcomings of the Dublin Regulation in its present form. The regulation, as it currently stands, places a disproportionate burden on the countries of first entry. Frontline countries of the EU have been stressing this all along. The regulation should be thoroughly reviewed and entirely overhauled in order to create a genuine burden-sharing system that would allocate asylum-seekers on the basis of objective criteria.
The hotspots on Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Leros, as well as two relocation centres on the mainland (Athens and Thessaloniki) are fully operational. Kos will be fully operational shortly. Greece will respect its commitment to increase its reception capacity to 50,000 places and, by May, we will add an additional 5,000 places to those that already exist.
Everyone acknowledges that the size of the current refugee and migration crisis greatly exceeds the management capabilities of any one state and is, therefore, a global issue.

A just solution to the crisis
There are many who claim, albeit from a safe distance, that had they been in Greece’s position, they would have all the solutions ready, all the questions answered, all the necessary structures in place to deal with the unprecedented “tsunami” of refugees and migrants.
While these critics continue to live in a virtual reality, Greece and the Greek people are seeing life on the front line and representing Europe and European values to the world.
The primary costs of managing the refugee and migrant influxes are estimated at more than 1.5 billion euros in a state that is concurrently going through an unprecedented fiscal adjustment. And that does not include the indirect expenses incurred and the profits that have been lost due to the refugee and migration crisis.
Greece has always supported the development of a common and integrated European policy for the management of the EU’s external border. Member states and EU institutions must make every effort to ensure that this European policy is institutionally sound, functional and effective.
Moreover, it is obvious that this crisis is not only an urgent European problem, but also a global one. The great European challenge with regard to refugee issues lies in shaping a co-ordinated state of affairs in the refugees’ countries of origin, in countries the refugees move through, and, of course, in EU countries. Greece’s position is that we need to address the root causes of the problem and that the whole of the EU and the international community must work intensively and constructively to find a peaceful, just and democratic political solution.
We will either develop a common policy to deal with the crisis, or the crisis will overwhelm us and become existential for the EU. Taking unilateral measures and closing borders has a direct impact on Greece, resulting in the concentration of significant numbers of migrants on Greek territory, while neither the relocation program nor returns are working adequately or efficiently.
Greece welcomes the recent conclusion of the European Council and reiterates its commitment to fully implement the relevant decisions.
We all recognize that Turkey is under a great deal of pressure, already hosting more than two million refugees. Nonetheless, it is a key country which could stem the flows to the EU’s southeastern borders. The reality is that it is on Turkish soil that migratory flows can be effectively checked and managed. Once the refugees and migrants are able to embark from Turkish soil, it is already too late.
In managing the refugee and migrant crisis, we mGreust take urgent action to dismantle smuggling and human trafficking networks, with special emphasis on unaccompanied minors. In this regard, we have to recognize that since last September, more than 340 children have drowned at sea. At the same time, it is necessary to proceed swiftly to activate the refugee resettlement and humanitarian admission process directly from Turkey to the EU.
We need to focus on ensuring EU action and support when dealing with the continued and sustained irregular migrant flows along the Western Balkans’ route, including the establishment of adequate reception capacity, while avoiding unilateral and unco-ordinated measures. Implementation of extreme measures will lead to a humanitarian crisis in Greece.
Greece insists, and will continue to insist, on European principles. And while it is shouldering the bulk of the burden of the refugee crisis — the root causes for which it bears no responsibility — it remains a factor for stability and peace in the region.
Despite the ongoing financial and social constraints facing my country, our public opinion has been sympathetic to and supportive of the refugees, in a manner that corresponds to our ethics and culture. Finally, Greek authorities have been acting with humanity, always under strained conditions, but always respecting international law and fundamental European values.
The time has arrived, at long last, to work and co-operate more effectively on the solution to the problem, for the benefit of the refugees themselves, but also for the benefit of our values and our civilization.

George L. Marcantonatos is Greece’s ambassador to Canada.

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George L. Marcantonatos is Greece’s ambassador to Canada.

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