This column has argued from the outset, as have others, that the migration/refugee crisis is an incredibly difficult if not unsolvable problem. This became abundantly apparent when the inflows shot up again after the elections last July, genuinely taking the then new government of New Democracy by surprise. It had also argued that the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was exploiting the waves of refugees and migrants, first and foremost to cause chaos in Greece and challenge its internal unity, and secondly to threaten Europe.
Judging by recent developments, these observations are, unfortunately, justified. The reactions of residents and local government officials on the eastern Aegean islands, on the one hand, and the desperate measures being adopted by the government – if not the whole political system – on the other, are proof of the magnitude of the problem, the huge level of difficulty in dealing with it and the significant threat it poses to social cohesion among the Greek populace. The situation will not improve if the inflows do not abate, as the situation remains explosive in the Middle East and desperate in many parts of Africa, if Erdogan shows no sign on cracking down on migrant smuggling across Turkey’s borders and if Europe continues to stick to its complacent stance and refuses to show real solidarity with Greece.
The only response that will work for Greece and its people right now is to be patient and reasonable, to deal with the inflows in the best way possible and to buy some time. There is no doubt that islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros are being slammed by the waves of refugees and migrants landing on their shores, just as there is no doubt that the situation at Moria and the other open camps is absolutely awful and inexcusable. However, given that geography cannot change and that these islands – along with the rest of the country – will always be hostage to it, the reactions of the past few days defy all reason.
It is not at all certain that the creation of new so-called closed facilities will do anything to lessen inflows. What is quite certain, though, is that the situation will get better in combination with improved mechanisms for dealing with the issue and other initiatives being adopted by the government. The locations selected for the new camps are so remote that there is little to justify the extreme reactions we have seen, including those from the regional governor of the northern Aegean and some mayors. They can’t refuse to talk with the government – unless they’re pondering some kind of island state of their own.
The same goes for residents on the mainland who have reacted unreasonably to the establishment of open camps in their vicinities. Unless they want a Greece with no islands. The long and short of it is that the threat of the migration crisis will become a lot graver if we don’t allow reason and cohesion to prevail.