Dublin II, Athens 0

Refugees and illegal immigrants who managed to slip through Greece and into another country only to find themselves sent back must think that the world is against them: After all the dangers that they went through, all the hopes raised and cash spent, they got to Europe, and, of all the countries in the EU, they end up back in the one that is in a chronic state of collapse. If they had just Googled «Greece» and «refugees» they would have known that all they could expect was heartbreak and hardship – and they would have kept paddling or walking westward. In accordance with the European Union’s Dublin Regulation (also known as Dublin II), people who entered the EU illegally must be sent back to the country of first entry if they are caught in another member state. The only consolation we could offer asylum seekers and migrants is that they should not take their misfortune too personally: In Greece, the public administration is so incompetent that it makes life a misery for its citizens, let alone for foreigners in need of assistance. Neither the natives nor the suppliants are treated with the respect and firmness that they may expect of a serious, democratic state. For years, Greece’s unofficial but pervasive policy has been to pretend that it did not see migrants and refugees, hoping (justifiably, most of the time) that the problem would just keep moving onward – to other countries. To be fair, it is impossible for Greece, a democratic state (one whose guards do not shoot «intruders» or leave them in mortal danger), to effectively prevent people from entering illegally due to its many islands and the river border with Turkey. The difficulty of policing such a long, porous border with countries that are not members of the EU prompted the bloc to establish a common border patrol, Frontex. Even so, the flow of immigrants cannot be stopped. But neglecting asylum seekers and hopeful economic immigrants – and doing very little to separate refugees from migrants – leads only to a multiplication of the problems that they and the host society face. Today, tens of thousands of people are drifting around parts of Athens looking for jobs, food and ways to keep busy as they wait for replies to asylum requests that will not come. Some 46,000 applications are pending; only 0.04 percent of requests lead to the granting of some protection. This is not a policy, nor is it simply a crime: It is proof of our society’s collapse. The incompetence of policymakers and those who should carry out whatever policy is in place has left countless people without direction, protection or guidelines. As they congregate wherever they find people in similar circumstances, they bring problems to neighborhoods that are unable to handle them. This is turn creates greater difficulties for authorities and volunteer groups to solve – and stimulates xenophobic and nationalistic reactions. Given a pretext, bigotry and brutality can rage out of control. After stepping in to support the economy, after offering help to patrol our borders, our EU partners are now planning to play a bigger role in our dealings with asylum seekers and migrants. They are offering money and technical know-how, as long as we reform the system. The Belgian presidency of the EU has suggested a «temporary suspension» of the Dublin Regulation when the host country is not in a position to take up any further burden (something like a bankrupt company’s protection from creditors, one might say). All of these measures are steps in the right direction – but are already late. Greece’s asylum problem, like its economic problem, is the concern of all Europeans. Because human rights are no less important than the economy – and Europe has a responsibility to protect its image as a champion of democracy and human rights. Under foreign supervision (again) Greece must move quickly to train enough people to deal with asylum seekers and immigrants. And it must appoint only people who care about doing their job well. Maybe if such employees can be singled out, and if they improve the lives of the neediest among us, we can start hoping that things will get better for citizens too.

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