OPINION

Games with frontiers

The arrival of nearly a thousand Tunisian immigrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa has been enough to put the Schengen Agreement into question.

The dispute between Italy and France over the fate of the North African refugees and illegal immigrants eventually resulted in a proposal by the European Commission to reintroduce stricter controls on national borders. The news was a fresh demonstration of the undying strength of national interests and the awkwardness of the European Union project.

The Lampedusa incident may have put Italy in the headlines, but it was still a one-off incident. Normally, eight or nine out of 10 clandestine migrants that try to sneak into Europe use Greece as their point of entry. Their final destination is naturally the more affluent countries of Western Europe, but few of them actually manage to get that far.

The fact is that it?s relatively easy to get to Greece, but it?s hard to travel out of the country, so the bulk of migrants end up stuck here. The burgeoning number of illegal migrants, who inevitably find it hard to find a job (and when they do it is without social security or decent pay), is effectively a hotbed for lawlessness and crime; it puts a strain on social infrastructure and undermines social peace.

Western Europeans are comfortable with the fact that Greece has become a barrier, a human dump as it were, that protects them against the inflow of poor foreigners. Their stance is extremely hypocritical as they accuse Greece of doing a poor job of protecting its borders when they know that this is practically impossible as those borders are too porous to lock down especially given that Turkey is in fact encouraging the flow. It is now clear that the Europeans will not set the immediate and unconditional return of people who use Turkey to migrate into the Schengen nations as a condition for the continuation of Ankara?s membership negotiations.

Athens must demand a common European migration policy, equipped with the necessary funds and suitable political tools. The problem, after all, is a European problem, and the solution, once again, can only be a European solution. But instead of taking steps forward, Europe is busy dismantling its good old principles. Frontex, as we know it, is only a short-term cure. In fact, Western governments are trying to shut down their borders to the nations of the European south that are taking most of the pressure. Should that happen, it would be foolish for Athens to obstruct the hordes of illegal migrants seeking desperately to make their way into the West.