Trapped in a policy void

Trapped in a policy void

Addressed to four cabinet ministers, the letter marked “very urgent” could have been one of countless administrative documents which often make their way through the public administration system.

Nevertheless, the dispatch takes more serious dimensions when it is signed by members of staff operating the country’s First Reception Service, who express their despair using “official” language, not only because “it is impossible for 60 employees to handle thousands of migrants,” but also because decisions taken “lack legitimacy.”

In this case, the document does not solely concern those on the receiving end – the politicians in charge  – but Greek society at large as well.

The document ends thus: “A few days ago at Idomeni [near Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], where large numbers of refugees and migrants had become entrapped, there were incidents of looting and attacks against the temporary facilities of nongovernmental organizations and other institutions which had dispatched representatives to the area, and, who ended up abandoning the premises as the situation deteriorated. The aforementioned incidents occurred despite the increased presence of police. It is understood that in cases when their plans are canceled, these people need to be handled very carefully, even for a limited period of time. This is a situation that requires a certain type of management, which displays substantive humanitarian elements on the one hand, but which will not render public servants potentially weak, on the other.” 

The letter could have been simply an expression of the civil servants’ fear of responsibility if the issue did not extend beyond public documents, official stamps and jobs.

Responsibility lies with the coalition government, and no one else.

It would be comforting if the responsibility could be shared between the employees, on the one hand, and Europe’s laxity, on the other. The facts, however, leave no space for maneuvering.

The ineffective transfers of migrants from one place to another, the fact that they find themselves essentially trapped in the country, cannot be solved through ministerial assurances of “a balance between security and rights” or through pompous prime ministerial talk regarding humanitarianism and solidarity.

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