The biggest challenge facing Greece’s new government is without a doubt managing the ongoing migration and refugee crises, and for many reasons too.
First, because it’s hard to tell where the refugee crisis ends and the migration crisis begins. We only find out once the boats have come ashore on our islands and the authorities have learned each individual’s story; this obviously takes time, considering how matters of the Greek state tend to move at a snail’s pace. Until then, Greece must abide by international laws, the rules that this small country requires – and invokes every time it feels bullied by its bigger eastern neighbor.
Second, there are no “best practices” to import from other countries in this case; there are better ones, at the organizational level, yet in general terms we play by the same rules as other countries.
Third, the sea may have borders, but they only exist on maps; all that talk about “sealing borders” in a country with as many islands and as long a coastline as Greece is only good for stoking the passions of the ignoramuses on Facebook.
Fourth, Greece’s strategic geographic position (the country is, as we like to boast, on the crossroads of three continents) confirms what Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis had predicted: “The flows will engulf us, not move past us.” Certainly they don’t plan to stop here, as Greece is not an attractive country for the immigrants, but until they move on, problems are bound to appear.
Fifth, and most importantly, the dissemination of fake news whose source is usually almost impossible to pin down makes it hard to challenge that information. Whopping lies are spread: about infectious diseases – mainly by people belonging to the anti-vaccination movement; about loss of cultural identity – by the same people who brag that the Greek civilization endured and thrived under 400 years of Turkish occupation; and about the inherent or acquired criminal tendencies of foreigners. This last point is not new: In the mid-1990s, during the peak of intolerance for Albanian immigrants, one village in northern Greece went as far as imposing a curfew on foreign nationals.
Journalists asked the locals if any of the many immigrants working in their fields displayed criminal behavior. One of them answered, “Well, our Albanians are alright, but don’t you see what is happening on TV?”
The immigration/refugee crisis is an international challenge that is bigger than individual governments and countries, even the big and powerful ones. Whether we want it or not, the migration crisis “will engulf us.” The only thing we can do is stay calm. Anything else is grasping for votes (or “likes”).
Published in eKathimerini.com 7.11.2019