A police officer walks outside a detention center in the northern Greek village of Fylakio, at the Greek-Turkish border.
At first glance there may be nothing striking about a recent news item about a convict who failed to return to prison where he was serving time for human trafficking – most likely migrant smuggling – after a furlough. But when you think about it a bit more, it is actually quite a big deal.
Greece is in the grip of a major refugee/migration crisis and one of the first and most basic measures that it should have taken when that crisis became apparent was to pass stricter laws to clamp down on migrant smuggling. We need legislation so that anyone convicted of the crime spends a long time in prison and doesn’t get to enjoy special liberties. We also need this legislation to be widely advertised and broadcast so that the message goes out around the world that migrant smuggling is not tolerated in Greece.
That said, it is not at all certain that passing – and strictly implementing – such a law would be enough to stem the waves of migrants and refugees coming into the country. The problem seems insurmountable, at least for the time being – regardless of how strenuously Northern Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris demands that a state of emergency be declared on the islands on the front line; regardless of all the promises the government makes and measures it adopts to deal with the crisis; regardless of the accusations from the preposterous opposition. And as a trained civil engineer, Moutzouris especially should have a much better grasp of the realities of the situation and be in a position to propose real solutions rather than demanding something as vague as a state of emergency.
The migrant/refugee inflows will continue because of war and climate change in the Middle East and Africa and the huge increase in populations in those areas; they will continue because the Turkish government is using the phenomenon as leverage to further its own interests; and they will continue because the countries of the European Union have no intention of helping out for whatever domestic reason. There is also the fact that Europe’s border with Turkey is in the sea and Greece’s islands are very close to its coast, so it’s almost impossible to stop the boats from coming.
The long and short of it is that Greece is in a very tight spot and cannot provide any radical solutions on its own. The keys to the solutions are in the hands of others and they don’t appear willing to help.
Does this mean that we should give up and conceded defeat? Of course not. While we wait for a miracle to happen, we need to analyze the situation dispassionately, organize ourselves as best we can, inform the Greek public – to the extent that this is possible – and bang our fist on the European table and make our voice heard. Most importantly, we need to come to terms with the fact that the refugee/migration crisis is yet another problem that cannot be managed without consensus and a national strategy. The need for tough legislation against human smuggling is part of this framework, as are measures to maintain law and order on the islands so their residents can have some relief from the mounting tension. Without such basic measures, there will be no one to blame but ourselves.