Borderline practices

As every year at this time, traffic peaks at Greece’s northern border crossings, as Albanians, Bulgarians, Slav-Macedonians, Serbs, Russians and Czechs flock to the country’s northern coastal resorts and islands. At the same time, thousands of economic migrants, mostly from Albania, return to their homelands for summer holidays. Greek border officials have a duty to facilitate these people’s legal transit by inspecting their travel documents. Without a doubt, checks must be strict and thorough as Greece must safeguard its territory against the illegal movement of people and goods as well as respect its commitments via the Schengen treaty. Meeting our obligations is one thing but denigrating human dignity is quite another. At some border crossings, the latter has become near-standard practice. Albanian nationals are kept waiting for days just because some police officer at passport control «did not like their face.» Slav-Macedonians are often regarded as «persona non grata» because, although they have a legal visa, they refuse to declare that «Macedonia is Greek.» Even the ambassadors of the larger European states are put through humiliating rituals. Greek embassies in neighboring countries have received numerous complaints from foreigners who were mistreated at Greek border posts, but this unacceptable practice continues, inviting protests from human rights organizations. Worse, these incidents are reported – and often inflated – in the foreign media, fanning anti-Greek sentiment. Ordinary citizens care little if Greece pays compensation to the Chams (ethnic Albanians living in northwestern Greece) but rightfully object when Greek officials treat them as second-class citizens. «Anything built by diplomacy can be destroyed by a police officer or customs official,» a leading Greek intellectual said.