To say 2015 has been a big year for Greece would be an understatement. A collapsing economy combined with vast numbers of asylum seekers searching for an escape from war in the Middle East arriving on Greek soil has pushed the country to the brink.
Greece is in a difficult location geographically, situated where Asia ends and Europe begins, meaning that it’s often the favoured arrival point for many travelling into Europe seeking refuge or asylum. Recently, this has meant the country has been overwhelmed with people fleeing oppression who now remain in limbo. These people are both here, and not here, unsure of what tomorrow may bring.
It is undeniable that, although this is a very topical issue, it’s also a recurring issue in Greece, only now with the added security threat. This has turned up the heat on the cauldron of fear, crisis and response and has led to the number of people granted asylum plummeting, the population becoming more fractured, and policies ever more confused.
The question of human rights is now posed against the backdrop of the security of the country that accepts the asylum seekers, adding to the already challenging question of national cohesion. The Greek population was already polarized between those with compassion fatigue, and those who don’t see it as a question of immigrant numbers or border control, but one of simple help to fellow human beings. Recently, a great number of Greeks have been moved to be part of the humanitarian aid, but this response isn’t enough. What is really needed is policy change.
Currently, the immigration and asylum policies are designed in a way that means they actually perpetuate the very problems they are meant to be combatting, and the root cause of the issues are being completely ignored.
I understand there needs to be a balance between control over borders and security and the humanitarian response, but the current security measures mean that the asylum seekers are now seen as a threat the country needs protecting from, rather than as displaced peoples requiring protection.
The border controls seem to be targeting refugees as people to be got rid of or moved on, and migration specialists support these controls, which are ultimately doomed to fail. Not looking at the root cause of the issue, only means the migration routes will change, not end the refugee crisis.
Greece lacks a coherent immigration policy, an issue in itself, which is being exacerbated by current reforms happening in a reactive fashion, without any proper agenda-setting. This means that in the aftermath of the reforms, with more people continuing to flow in, and an already cumbersome bureaucratic system,these new measures are effectively deporting people as personae non grata. All whilst assimilation and integration, and the issues arising from such influxes, are being pushed further down the agenda across the EU.
With the situation growing ever-more hostile towards refugees, morality and respect for human dignity is on the decrease, and detention centres seem to be creating the same oppression that the asylum seekers were hoping to escape. At the same time, the media is exacerbating the hostility of the Greek population, by portraying the crisis in a solely negative light.
In downtown Athens, Victoria Square has become a camping space. If you happen to pass by you can see the recent arrivals, short on medical aid and living on a paltry diet, wondering what will happen to them now. If you were there, would you pass them by?
Grievous human rights violations, inhuman and degrading treatment, terrible facilities, racial violence and inertia is the perfect storm of the worst way we can treat these vulnerable people.
The policy makers must act fast to tackle this issue from the bottom up and guarantee a safe future for the Greeks, whilst working on co-operative and sustainable policies for immigration.
This will remind us why Greece was the country that lent the word asylon to the modern world.
Maria is one of our International Alumni Ambassadors for Greece. If you live outside the UK and are interested in being an active member of our alumni community in your home country, please visit our website for more information on how to volunteer.