OPINION

What’s in a number?

what-s-in-a-number

Thanks to police and military patrols, electro-optic sensors, radars, drones etc, Greece has managed not only to prevent the influx of sundry undocumented intruders, but also to count them, down to very last one. Indeed, according to Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, “a total of 61,508 individuals” were prevented from crossing the Evros border in northeastern Greece between February 28 and August 3.

How many of these people might have been entitled to apply for asylum is something the minister did not tell us. After all no one asked him. Such questions, such issues concerning the moral order, appear exclusively restricted to the Epidaurus Festival of Ancient Drama. We watch its plays with rapt theatrical attention, declare our admiration for our ancestors at the end and then carry on having an intellectual vacation – unflustered, without the minutest of shifts in our conscience.

Who, in truth, were these people who were prevented from crossing by the country’s security forces? Was it just those who froze at the sound of the first “Halt!” and were therefore easy to count? Or was it also those who walked away, requiring the authorities to look back at the video and count them? And what about the little ones? Were they also counted among the individuals? Or is it unpatriotic to refer to these nascent threats to Western civilization as little ones?

The 61,508 individuals certainly do not include the seven migrants who died on the Egnatia Highway near the town of Alexandroupoli on August 5 or the five injured in the same crash. They managed to make it into Greece, but their fate was sealed – that’s if fate is responsible for 12 people being crammed into a speeding van. The victims of that fatal crash were given less than a full day of media coverage.

Do those 61,508 individuals also comprise those who were violently pushed back? We don’t know. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, recently issued an announcement saying that it “remains deeply concerned by an increasing number of credible reports indicating that men, women and children may have been informally returned to Turkey immediately after reaching Greek soil or territorial waters in recent months.

“UNHCR firmly reiterates its call on Greece to refrain from such practices and to seriously investigate these reports, which include a series of credible and direct accounts that have been recorded by the UNHCR Office in Greece and have been brought to the attention of the responsible authorities,” it adds.

The response from the authorities – in all seriousness, of course – is to dismiss such reports as fake news. What else?