In 2015, more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, and creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people. Since then, Greece – a frontline state - has borne the brunt of this burden.
1. Greece is Europe’s frontline
Over the past two years, more than 1.3 million people fleeing persecution and conflict passed through Greece seeking safety and a better life in Europe. At the peak of the migrant crisis, Greece’s eastern Aegean islands saw an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey — approximately 6,827 per day (UN figures).
Greece’s response to the crisis has been nothing but exemplary. Greeks of all walks of life, struggling through a deep economic crisis, opened their arms and demonstrated to the world the true meaning of philoxenia and philotimo.
2. Europe’s response has been insufficient.
At first, Europe’s and Greece’s response mechanism and asylum system were caught by surprise. As tens of thousands of people crossed into Greece, they proceeded to make their way north on foot through the Balkans and into Germany.
While the daily number of people arriving on Greece’s shores has dropped dramatically following the border closures in the Balkans and the EU-Turkey deal, serious problems persist.
Meanwhile, refugees and migrants continue to trickle onto the islands, leading to desperate conditions at overcrowded reception centers. The UN also warned in December 2017 that the situation in reception centers remained “critical,” and urged Europe and Athens to step their efforts. Hundreds of migrants have been transferred from island facilities to less crowded camps on the mainland, but the pace of arrivals remains faster than that of the transfers, leading to substandard conditions at the island camps. While the islands are where action is most desperately needed, there are also tens of thousands of migrants and refugees on the mainland.
3. Europe must step up to the plate
It is imperative that the EU not allow this to become a forgotten crisis. Since the number of arrivals were more or less contained, Europe lost its political will to take effective action. The fact remains that once again, Greece has been left to bear a crisis when it is ill-equipped to do so. In addition to the financial assistance being given to Greece to deal with this crisis, the EU should review its policy regarding supporting NGO's, provide greater technical assistance in processing asylum requests, and press its members to help relocate refugees. Europe must present a plan that not only deals with this crisis, but also stops treating Greece as a dumping ground for refugees.
Each day of delay simply puts more lives at risk.