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Dangerous European politics at the Greek border

George Sagris

On 3 February 2020, European Union (EU) delegates met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to discuss the deteriorating situation happening on the Greek border.

At the end of February, Turkey declared that it would no longer stop migrants from the Middle East trying to cross into Europe. This comes after 33 Turkish troops were killed in Syria and can be seen as a reactionary retaliation from Ankara.

Turkey’s new policy violates a deal the country struck with the EU in 2016 about relocating migrants.

As a result of escalated violence in Syria, one million people have been displaced since December 2019, and many are looking for shelter in Europe.

Turkey is already hosting 3.7 million refugees from Syria, as well as migrants from other countries in the region. In 2016 the EU allocated €3 billion to help smooth the process and alleviate some of the burden caused by the refugee crisis.

Turkey’s migrant announcement is a reaction to being pushed back in Syria. In a recent statement, Mitsotakis argued that: “This is no longer a refugee problem. This is a blatant attempt by Turkey to use desperate people to promote its geopolitical agenda and divert attention from the horrible situation in Syria.”

Mitsotakis believes that tens of thousands who have tried to enter Greece recently are not from Syria but have been living in Turkey for a long period.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief, Filippo Grandi, backed the prime minister, asserting that few of those arriving in Greece are from North-West Syria.

There is a situation on the Greek border where migrants are trying to enter the country by boat but are being pushed back by Greek authorities.

Camps for displaced migrants on the Greek Islands have a total capacity of 5,600, but are currently housing more than 40,000 migrants.

As a result, these camps lack resources, with limited access to sanitation and many reports of young migrants trying to commit suicide.

Greece announced it would stop taking new asylum requests for a month and the United Nations (UN) immediately countered saying that this contravenes UN and EU law.

In contrast to the UN’s assertions, on 3 March 2020 the EU pledged €700 million to support Athens’ policies and will deploy a European intervention force.

President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Leyden, praised Greece’s efforts, referring to them as ‘our European shield.’

This is where the situation becomes problematic.

A sovereign nation is well within their rights to protect their own borders, and Mitsotakis is only responding to Turkey’s belligerence in trying to leverage the EU into supporting their cause in Syria.

Neither the Greek Islands nor the mainland have the resources to house a large influx of migrants over a short period of time.

Conversely, Greece’s move to ban asylum seeker applications violates international law, yet is backed by the EU.

Asylum seekers are not pawns to be used by countries to achieve their political aims. They are people who are fleeing war and are living in extreme poverty, in constant fear of death.

Europe has a comprehensive framework in place to deal with refugees, but the 2015 crisis brought many logistical problems. Germany and Turkey took the brunt, while Hungary restricted people’s rights to asylum and made it a criminal offence to help migrants and refugees.

As the situation will only worsen in terms of mass migration, the EU would be better suited creating more camps and facilities close to the borders of affected countries, improving living standards and allowing for time to process them.

The EU should at the same time be vocal in condemning Turkey’s involvement in Syria, taking away Turkey’s bargaining power.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz believes that the EU should not be susceptible to Turkey’s blackmail and that if together they cannot defy Turkey’s demands, it may be the beginning of the end.

Who’s to stop other countries from creating politically-charged, increasingly zero-sum politics to fuel their own political agenda?

In the 24 hours of 2-3 March 2020, Greek authorities stopped 5,183 people from entering its borders.

Due to lack of medicinal services, and worldwide hysteria regarding the corona virus, Greece is right to be wary of undocumented global citizens.

However, this is not a time to play power politics. This is a time to properly understand the nature of the migration situation and come up with a holistic solution.

This level of mass-migration is not sustainable, but world leaders have effectively created a situation in Syria that caused this situation.

As a commanding governing body with tangible judicial authority, the EU must work with its member states to remove the aggressive zero-sum politics from the equation to create a better outcome that is in line with universal human rights.

George Sagris is a journalist and Honours graduate in Japanese-Chinese politics, based in Tokyo.


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