When Greece reverts discreetly to normal

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The Covid-19 pandemic has already contributed an interesting collateral gain to regional stability; maybe it even signaled a useful “back to normal” for Greece insofar international/European norms covering the refugee/migration issue is concerned.

The spread of the virus menace in Turkey seems to have defused the bomb that had been planted in the border area of Evros, when – in February and early March – helpless people in their hundreds and thousands were prodded – to say the least – to try and cross over to Greece from Pazarkule (TR) to Kastanies (GR), in the hope they would reach “Europe”. (The same was happening with risk-laden sea crossings from the Turkish shores to the nearby Aegean islands).

Following the resolute stance of Greek authorities to close the border crossing, a stance joined by EU “27” institutions to stop a new immigrant influx to Europe, the make sphft camps formed at the Turkish side (Pazarkule) had started to disperse; the pandemic made Turkey to close its own border crossings – while boats trying to get to the islands stopped attempting to cross.

But a further occurrence should be noted – more propitious to regional stability and to Greece’s own return to some sort of normal. When the decision to seal the border was taken, a temporary rule was decreed whereby those trying to cross illegally (since the border was sealed) were denied even the right to file for asylum under refugee/humanitarian law. Those apprehended by the police or border patrols were confined in special closed detention centres.

So, the temporary (with a month-long duration) decree was left to expire, end-March. Discreetly, Greek authorities – assisted by the UNHCR and the IOM – agreed for those hundreds held in the special camps to file for asylum, thus ending a bitter (though equally discreet) confrontation with international and European authorities. Swedish Commissioner for Home Affairs and Migration Ylva Johansson had been opposed to denying the right to apply for asylum as contrary both to international law and European legislation. Also the closed detention centres seem to be “normalized” to provisional camps. So, an interesting “back to normal” is happening for Greece.