Given the situation in Syria and for different reasons in numerous other places from Afghanistan to Iraq, the already difficult problem of the migrant/refugee crisis is fast emerging as a long-term challenge.
Greece is particularly vulnerable because its geography means that tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and economic migrants fleeing terrible conditions in their countries regard it as the easiest gateway into the European Union.
Everyone has some share of responsibility for the situation in Greece. After being elected in 2015, leftist SYRIZA found itself facing a problem that some of its officials failed to acknowledge the gravity of. It also failed to account for the tolerance of Greek society – of ordinary people, not “far-right extremists.” What was already a major challenge became even bigger as a result of ideological fixations and incompetence under SYRIZA’s leadership.
New Democracy has its share of responsibility. It finds itself hostage to the exaggerated criticism it exercised against its predecessor and many of its pre-election promises – not made by all its officials, some of whom were more reserved – that created expectations it cannot realistically deliver. Soon after being elected, it faced a surge in arrivals and its gravest mistake was to abolish the Migration Ministry, though it did recognize its mistake and after five months reinstated it.
All that was yesterday. Now we’re looking at a completely different situation. The mix of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s direct and aggressive weaponization of human misery is explosive, dangerous and way beyond our usual rivalries.
Managing this new phase of the crisis requires consensus in Athens. The government and the authorities are all on alert and doing everything possible to prevent it from blowing up. Today’s planned visit to the Evros border region by the Greek prime minister and the heads of the European Council, Commission and Parliament, will send a strong message, though we are beyond messages at this point.
The main opposition, which handled the migration crisis for more than four years – its former migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas and Dimitirs Vitsas are among its most serious officials – has the right to expect that it is kept updated but it also needs to act responsibly.
Our European partners, meanwhile, have not supported Greece as much as they should have over these last few years despite the fact that Greece was going through a deep crisis.
Faced with a national crisis of such magnitude – which could even entail the risk of war with an increasingly nationalist and volatile Turkey – there is only one way to go: A unified domestic front with reserved rhetoric from all sides and the avoidance of blame-giving; coordination with European leaders and political allies inside the EU; a common message to the international community and, of course, a national line toward Turkey.
Neither the government nor the opposition should be trying to capitalize on what is such a potentially dangerous situation. Each should do their part for the sake of the national interest.