by Fragkiska Megaloudi
On some islands, the number of arrivals-all of them fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq-has surpassed the totallocal population. In July alone over 50,000 people have arrived in Greece, which has seen around 160,000 migrants land on its shores since January. Seven out of ten of the people are refugees from Syria followed by lower numbers of Afghans and Iraqis.
Under the pressure of the influx of people-and in the context of the bleak financial situation of Greece- the country’s reception system is stretched to its limits. There are three reception and identification centers on the islands of Chios, Lesvos and Samos run by the police while on the other islands the police or the coast guard accommodates people in open spaces. Asylum claims can only be filed in Athens, as there are no asylum services on the islands. The two existing servicesof Rhodes and Lesvos are understaffed and hence cannot process any claims. But even in Athens, lack of personnel and coordination hampers the registration and identification process that can last for many months. In the interim, people are either packed like animals for slaughter in inadequate reception centers or are forced to sleep outdoors in squalid conditions.
While Greece is currently under the spot – amidst accusations of inhuman treatment of asylum seekers and refugees-a humanitarian tragedy is being unfolded in the sea borders of the European Union. Only in April, more than 16,000 people tried to reach Italy by making the perilous journey from the shores of Libya. They crossed the sea crammed in old wooden fishing boats that are designed to carry no more than 20 people. But smugglers force up to 800 people in those floating coffins that are later left adrift or sunk. Only in April more than 1000 people have drowned in an attempt to reach Italy. And those who make the journey alive, find themselves trapped between poverty and war in their home countries and European policies and regulations upon arrival.
In the port of Calais, in the north coast of France more than 3000 people are stranded in a shanty town where disease and violence is a constant threat. They all hope to reach Britain through the undersea tunnel but very few will ever make it. Calais is yet another symbol of the failure of Europe to manage migration.
At the end of June, European leaders had agreed to resettle 60,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy. Britain has refused to take part in the proposed refugee sharing scheme.
But one month later EU countries shifted from what was announced and said that they would relocate only 32,256 refugees starting in October and committed to a future resettlement of another 22,504. But still they are not able to agree on how many refugees each country will take in and most countries refuse to accept the European Commission’s proposed distribution. Denmark has made a general commitment for a future resettlement but chose not to participate to the EU relocation plan. Germany, France and the Netherlands are taking on the highest number of refugees, and are pushing for the proposed distributions. But the Baltic countries said will take in a limited number of people that ranges between 100 and 250 refugees. Austria refused to commit to a number and promised to take in 1900 people without defining any time frame. Hungary has started building a 4 meter high fence along 110-mile border with Serbia to stop migrants on Balkan land route and said will not take any refugees either.
While European leaders are fighting over the quotas people are dying both in the sea and in their war ridden countries. And the European hypocrisy is not just about numbers. Last October Britain has decided to end its support for search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean claiming that it encourages migrants to cross the sea and “thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths”. As a result the year 2015 was by far the deadliest for migrants and refugees: 2,365 people have died in the Mediterranean until mid-august compared to a total 1779 people in 2014. All those deaths seem not to affect lobbyists and bureaucrats in Brussels or elsewhere. Behind closed doors they take decisions that allow them to inflict horrors to those they deem “disposable” without even getting their hands dirty.
Back in 2011, while France was lobbying for a military intervention in Libya to get rid of MoamerKadhafi, the French minister for European affairs, Laurent Wauquiez was urging EU to make sure that ”flows of illegal immigrants that pass though Libya” will not threaten France. NATO’s war in Libya has resulted to a country run by warlords that is now the center of Mediterranean people smuggling and an illicit arm traffic network. The war has destabilized various countries across the Sahel forcing more people to flee their homes.
Less than a year ago French President Francois Hollande admitted that France had delivered weapons to Syrian rebels to fight Bashar Al Assad. At about the same time BBC revealed a plan of the British government to train and equip a 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army to defeat the Assad regime. Only three months ago, in May, Britain approved the deployment of 75 military personnel in Turkey to train Syrian rebel forces. While the west cannot keep its nose out of other countries affairs, the Syrian tragedy has claimed so far the lives of 250,000 people and has forced more than 4 million to flee the country. Violence and war in Afghanistan has displaced more than a million Afghans and some 2,500,000 have fled to Pakistan and Iran where they live crammed in squalid camps. Sectarian violence in Iraq – that has soared since the 2003 US-led invasion-has cost the lives of more than 12,000 people only in 2014.
There are more than half million people waiting in Libya to take the journey to Italy.
War, violence, persecution and poverty is what makes people prey to smugglers. Many will never reach the promising land but will perish on the way. How many more deaths can we stomach?