The government has responded to intensifying demands to ease the pressure on the five eastern Aegean islands that are on the front line of the migration/refugee crisis by creating new detention facilities. It has responded to the demand for the immediate transfer of tens of thousands of asylum seekers to facilities on the mainland by planning to put them behind walls on the islands. On Lesvos, those who can’t fit into the existing facility at Moria will be moved to another camp a few kilometers away. And local authorities that reacted to this decision have been served with requisition papers for plots on which to build these pre-departure detention camps. But at least the matter was discussed first, and quite thoroughly, according to the government.
In a way, the current government is following in the footsteps on the previous SYRIZA administration’s failed policy, by letting the islands do all the shouting in the hopes that Europe will listen. It is testing the migrants’ tolerance in the hope that photographs of the squalor reach Turkey and prevent others from getting on the smugglers’ boats. It is attempting to send a message to people who have paid a fortune to smugglers to put them and their children’s lives at risk reaching Europe’s threshold, in the hopes of dissuading them from taking the last step.
The migration/refugee crisis is a problem without a solution, when the solution you’re after is that the problem will just go away. When you have a problem with a loan, for example, you come to some kind of settlement with the bank. When you have a problem with drafts in your home, you block the gaps where the air is coming through and the problem goes away. When you have a problem with a neighbor listening to loud music in the middle of the night, you call the police and then pretend it never happened. There are no such solutions for the migration problem. You cannot act as though it doesn’t exist or treat it like something that will go away on its own at some point. The way the issue is being perceived is wrong.
At the same time, you can’t treat the local communities who have borne the brunt of the crisis like the village crank who doesn’t share your vision. The bond of trust between the islands and Athens is broken. Yes, it’s been broken since 2017, but what is being done today to restore it?
Immigration is a condition, a reality. The movement of people and populations is something that has always happened and will continue to happen at an even greater rate. It’s become a problem because we have failed to manage it and because Europe is showing such great indifference and incompetence. That’s where the crux of the matter lies: in the big picture. If the international community does not take an active interest in addressing the migration crisis and if pressure is not brought to bear on Turkey, then the situation for Greece will become all but hopeless.
In the meantime, the government in Athens keeps changing its approach and policies. It abolished the Migration Ministry and then brought it back; it talks about tighter border security and then throws half a million euros into a black hole; it casts aspersions against nongovernmental organizations doing the hard work. On the other hand, the only municipal authority that has welcomed migrants into its midst since 2015 without turning a hair was Trikala. How did it manage to do that?