Greece is becoming a garbage bin for migrants and it does so with European consent. It is high time to react.

June 5, 2009

By Apostolis Fotiadis

High Commissioner António Guterres has asked some days ago the European Commission to consider convening a meeting between Italy, Malta, Libya, UNHCR and other relevant partners to work on a joint strategy for a better  response to irregular migration across the Mediterranean, following Italy’s recent  ‘push-backs’ to Libya.

But while Italy is being internationally chastised for the refoulement of refugees that effectively annuls the country’s responsibilities arising from international treaties, most notably the Geneva convention, neighboring Greece is building up a state sponsored persecution of irregular migration which has so far got away provocatively unnoticed.

What is experienced today on European Union’s south-eastern border is not the failure of a wholesale migration policy. On the contrary it is the miserable result of fifteen years of absence of any comprehensive migration politics at all, on both national and European levels.

Since 2005 when traffickers partly abandoned the warn-out Spanish and Italian routes for a less abused and thus guarded one, and influxes from devastated states like Iraq and Afghanistan multiplied immensely, the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe through the Greek/European aquatic and territorial boundaries has skyrocketed.

This shift of migration flows and Greece’s unique geographic position, (Greece is the only Mediterranean Schengen member that shares no direct territorial boundaries with any of its partners), has led to high concentration of migrants in the country. Rising social closure and anti-immigrant institutional arrangements in Europe, most notably the Dublin II regulation, have contributed as well.

Under the Dublin II regulation asylum applicants must register their data in the first country where they come in contact with authorities. Thereafter it becomes that country’s responsibility to assess their status thereafter and anyone moving to another country should be returned to the country he/she has been initially registered.

Dublin II has been widely criticised by human rights activists as a device to raise the walls of ‘Fortress Europe’ and for developed states to reduce their responsibilities at the expense of border states.

Based on this combination of geographic isolation and institutionalized externalization of irregulars from Europe, Greece has been transformed from a transit country to a dead end on the journey westwards.

Within less than five years hundreds of thousands of human beings have accumulated in an already overburdened country that has no experience in dealing with great migration influxes. Even worse Greece’s mediocre politicians have had no will to adapt policies to a newborn multicultural environment- and no idea whatsoever on how to do this. Their response deserves nothing less than being used by Europe’s best institutions that strive over the complications of population movements as a paradigm on how to create social exclusion.

From 2000 onwards all Greek administrations have essentially avoided implementing, despite their incorporation in national law, European directives regarding reception, asylum procedures, family reunification and long term residence status.

They have rendered, according to Greek’s Ombudsman latest report some days ago, impossible any viable self employment or independent economic activity for economic migrants pushing them as cheap and easily exploitable labour into Greece’s vast and ruthless informal market.

They have even managed to socially isolate second generation migrants, who, on the day of their 18th birthday fall into a limbo of semi legality theoretically threatening them with expulsion to their parent’s country of origin where they have never been.

Last but not least they have obliterated access to asylum and refugee status by politically directing the restriction of approvals to below 1% and abolishing granting refugee status based on humanitarian grounds.

Concurrently they have committed number one mistake in handling asylum and refugee claims by offering jurisdiction over those issues to the hands of unskilled police personnel. Placing responsibility for policing irregular flows and regulating asylum and refugee issues under Greek police’s authority, notoriously unpopular for its low human rights records, has inevitably led to internal conflict of interest that has prioritised the first task at the expense of the second.

“Asylum has been completely abandoned” Spyros Kouloxeris coordinator of the legal assistance program offered by The Greek Council for Refugees told to … “there is no efficient infrastructure neither plans to create it, there is announcement of new legislation that will deteriorate the situation and we are facing an imminent collapse of existing asylum procedures. Between 36.000 and 40.000 applications are awaiting considerations. The responsible personnel are inefficient, exhausted and negatively stigmatized. They literally do not want to go on with this. It is more than a priority that asylum leaves from police jurisdiction and is transferred to a specialized authority.”

With their facing an imminent migration crisis it was due time for Greeks who for generations have received nationalist schooling inspiring their pride for a society based on ethnic homogeneity to react. Today they look increasingly appalled while their national sanctuary is being ‘invaded’ by barbarians.

Coincidentally ‘Residents Committee against the invasion of aliens in our country’ was the name that hundreds right wing extremists chose for their downtown demo last week. They attacked a squatted building where 600 people have been packed like animals and sent five of them to the hospital. In that case riot policemen, who are usually perfectly able to even beat up elders when protesting for better social security, did not notice their misdeeds.

This hasn’t been an isolated event. It occurred arrived after numerous abuses have gone unpunished over the last years. Constant denouncement of police, enjoying in this country an impunity increasingly reminding that of some Latin American problematic democracies, for brutalizing migrants seems to be worthless. The message is there for those willing to see, if the state can tear down an ‘unwanted’ human being, through its long hand, then why not its citizens?

In this extended climate of fear and unable to strive for a dignified existence or at least leave many foreigners gather in central districts of Athens or in slums around the ports of Patra and Igoumenitsa, connecting the country to Italy. Total abjection inflates criminality and has transformed parts of the capital even under Acropolis to tough unlawful zones.

Riots provoked by Muslim migrants after the desecration of a Quran by a policeman some days ago prove the situation is more than explosive and requires quick and deep political responses. “Perhaps these incidents are a taste from the future” wrote Thanos P. Dokos general director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Kathimerini, a big political daily, “it would be good to hasten some measures like establishment of official religious sites and cemeteries for religious minorities as wells as recruitment of migrants into police. Still it is obvious that our country lacks a national strategy for controlling the phenomenon of irregular migration and that so far efforts have been scrappy”.

But the government appears determined to continue to the wrong direction. With encouragement of mainstream media which hysterically produce negative reporting on migration it is considering a response to the crisis which advances policing at the expense of integration.

The Ministry of Interior has announced plans to move thousands of irregular migrants to detention facilities. It was also decided at an emergency meeting two weeks ago of officials from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense, the Merchant Marine and Island Policy, and of the police and coast guard, to set up a new coordination body for the protection of national borders.

One of the first emergency measures will see the military getting involved in strengthening the surveillance of borders against arrivals from the Aegean Sea by detaining migrants inside military vessels.

All this will be accompanied by new laws which will render lawful all previous misdeeds relative to asylum procedures.

This will be done with a budget of 200 million euros up to 2013, 148 million of which will come from the European Union, for policing equipment and new technologies.

According to ‘Eurocrats’ this is how they ought to respond to the tragedy taking place in Greece, a tragedy which they often denounce in NGO meetings and pro human rights articles.

If Europe cared about this upcoming nightmare it would not pay Greece to do its dirty job. It should rapidly revise Dublin II and push for the creation of a sophisticated infrastructure able to redirect flaws equally throughout Europe. Or at the very least it should demand immediate implementation of the inactive directives. These are issues that Mr. Guterres ought to raise if the meeting ever takes place.

On top of that during the upcoming Swedish presidency the EU will be considering the so called “Stockholm Programme” regarding its next steps on the area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ) including migration and asylum issues. The reality in Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean ought to reach the workshop rooms and affect how decision makers think on these issues.

So far the current European stance is quickly degenerating into paying Greece and other Mediterranean partners to act as garbage bins for human beings, indirectly legitimizing their xenophobic policies.

Unfortunately this is not going to work. With Pakistan quickly joining the ever-increasing list of failed states and more awaiting their turn thousands of aliens will soon find their way to Europe’s south eastern boundary. Refuge dumps full of human misery stink too much. Their ugly stench is going to fetch Europeans at any place; it needs no expensive traffickers or fake passports. European civilization is failing in Greece, morally and culturally. If Europe with its political arsenal does not stand up to the challenge we are all going to pay the price.

Hellenic Institute for European and Foreign Policy http://www.eliamep.gr/

European Union – Justice, Freedom and Security http://europa.eu/pol/justice/index_en.htm

The Stockholm Programme http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/11666/a/120682

Greek Council for Refugees http://www.gcr.gr/en/node/248

UNHCR Greece http://www.unhcr.org/country/grc.html


One comment

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