NEWS

Locals fear economic backlash as refugees leave

TAGS: Migration, Economy

As police units continued the evacuation of migrants and refugees from border camps across northern Greece on Friday, several local residents expressed opposition, claiming that business in the area will take a hit.

“If the refugees had not come, we would have left and closed down our shops,” said cheese pie shopowner Stamatis Misios.

“[The refugees] were a strong boost to the market, businesses were up and running and the unemployed got jobs,” he told Kathimerini, and took aim at authorities for “obsessing” over their evacuation.

Local authorities say more than 1,000 people from the border towns near the camps had been hired by nongovernmental organizations, while Christos Goutenoudas, mayor of Paionia, said that one NGO boosted the local economy to the tune of 22 million euros.

“They came to the rescue with regard to the unemployment situation,” he said, as locals now await “the next wave of refugees.”

Despite protests and initial reservations over the mass influx of refugees to border towns in northern Greece, a number of locals are now saying their arrival had an overall positive impact on their communities.

“Our society received a good lesson; it learnt to coexist with foreigners and did away with some of the xenophobia,” said retired army officer Athanasios Pavlides, adding that “the initial contact was difficult but then people got used to it, especially after big sums of money started flowing in.”

Meanwhile, the government said on Friday that it wants to significantly boost returns of refugees to Turkey in the next few weeks under the deal between Brussels and Ankara.

Under the agreement, Greece must return to Turkey people who either do not apply for asylum or whose applications have been rejected.

“It would constitute failure if, within the next month-and-a-half, those who are obliged to leave the islands didn’t do so,” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said on Friday, following criticism that Greek authorities have been slow in processing asylum applications.

Greece has so far returned just 468 people to Turkey since the deal was signed on March 20.

Aid agencies and rights group have slammed the deal as a human rights violation, with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) saying on Friday that it will reject any EU funding in protest, claiming it will “jeopardize the very concept of the refugee.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is set to visit Lesvos on Saturday to meet with migrants, asylum seekers and volunteers, with the purpose of “assessing the situation” and to express his solidarity.

Meanwhile, nine more Syrian refugees flew to the Vatican on Thursday at the invitation of Pope Francis.

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