Greece is currently under the scrutiny of the international press. Between diplomatic relations strained with Turkey, internal tensions between locals and refugees and the crisis following the first victims of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a lot of turmoil in this country whose tourist reputation generally precedes less cheerful news, such as recent events. Here is an attempt to dissect some recent events currently taking place in Greece to have a better understanding of the geopolitical climate in which I AM YOU is operating.
The situation on the Aegean islands
Greece being Europe’s shield against the migration crisis has welcomed over 1 million refugees since January 2015 while the country attempted to recover from a devastating economic crisis. This unsustainable situation has paved the way to an escalation of internal tensions and disapproval on the policies surrounding the management of the current humanitarian crisis. Indeed, according to a recent report of the United Nation High Commissariat for Refugees (UNHCR), Greece has welcomed over the course of 2019 alone more than 74,600 refugees (UNHCR, 2020). An estimated 42,000 refugees are thought to currently be living on the Aegean islands, of which 35,681 in reception centres as indicated in this report published at the end of February 2020.
The situation on Lesbos
“is not very different from that of a war zone, a war against dignity, Human Rights and the resilience of those who are fleeing to look for security”, Sandrone, the Lesbos field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on March the 3rd which was then relayed by infomigrants.net
The situation is akin to a humanitarian crisis that doesn’t seem to be improving over time. Rachel Donadio, a political journalist writes about Moria refugee camp, the biggest one on Lesbos, in a heartfelt article for the Atlantic entitled ‘Welcome to Europe, Now go home’.
«What is Moria? It is where Europe’s ideals—solidarity, human rights, a safe haven for victims of war and violence—dissolve in a tangle of bureaucracy, indifference, and lack of political will. It is the normalisation of a humanitarian crisis. It is the moral failure of Europe.»
The striking example of Moria underlines the unsustainability of these conditions, which also weigh heavily on the locals.
The locals’ discontent
In the hope of unclogging these infamous reception centres, the Greek government decided to open new reception facilities on the requisitioned land of the inhabitants at the end of February, which caused the islanders' dissatisfaction.
This was followed by violent clashes between the police, NGOs present on site and the locals who perpetuated a climate of terror so much so that many organisations and their volunteers were duly evacuated. These anti-migrant retaliations have amplified the isolation and vulnerability in which refugees are found, bypassing the delivery of food and medical care in particular.
But the hostility of the islanders mainly reflects the exasperation that stems from a migration crisis, from which the rest of Europe has long been absolved. The situation at the borders doesn’t prevail any improvement in the near future for that matter either.
The situation at the borders
Adding to the pressure of these internal conflicts, there are also tensions on an international scale. "We are already hosting nearly four million refugees and have neither the means nor the resources to allow entry to our territory for an additional one million people", said Fahrettin Altun, Communication Director of the Turkish Presidency. The statement then referred to the humanitarian disaster in Idlib, Syria, where nearly a million people fled the bombing of the Damascus regime and its Russian ally, most of them taking refuge near the Turkish borders. Subsequently, on February the 28th, Turkey announced the opening of its border with Greece resulting in the agglomeration of nearly 150,000 people at the frontier.
Greece, receiving the financial support of the European Union, has been trying to keep its borders to remain hermetic against the promise of new waves of refugees. The first step taken was to stop the asylum processes for at least a month. The threat has been adopted but since then communicated as a security measure to prevent the spread of the virus COVID-19. The inability to resort to seeking asylum goes against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and refugees at the borders are now facing police brutality, stuck in between a diplomatic feud (Border Violence Monitoring Network, 2020). Although since March the 5th a truce was granted between Russia and Turkey on the Syrian territory, displaced populations caught up by the promises of accessing Europe through Turkey find themselves blocked, uncertain of what remains true and what turns out to be a political manoeuvre on the part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Little by little, the borders are metamorphosed into improvised camps and uncertainty reigns in the minds of people seeking refuge who are now facing the stonewall formed by Europe.