The refugee/migrant flows that have been increasing from Turkey-Asia Minor to the Aegean Islands these last weeks are causing anew concerns – both to Europe and to Greece (the government in place, local communities, wider public opinion). This rather simple formulation is an understatement; possibly a dangerously misleading understatement.
The spectre of 2015-16 looms large, while the EU/Turkey Statement (of March 2016) that stemmed the refugee tide causing political upheaval in the very heart of Europe is clearly non-operational any longer. At the same time, the fences put up in the northern borders of Greece and effectively closing the Balkan Corridor of that earlier age remain in place.
The fact that the two days following the New York meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw the numbers of people crossing – or trying to: a rubber boat capsized near the small archipelago of Oinousses, leaving 7 people drowned (of which 3 children) – are causing waves of outright anxiety. This specific incident seems to have involved Turkish dissidents fleeing the Erdogan regime: but refugees are coming by their hundreds a day. The meeting of political leaders was supposed to offer Ankara the support of Athens in its insistance that financial aid from the EU to Turkey be expedited, to help along with the cost of dealing with the (mainly Syrian) refugee population in Turkish territory, in exchange for better policing on part of the Turkish Coast Guard that would stop or at least dissuade the refugee boats from starting their crossing. Nothing positive seems to have resulted.
So, Greek public opinion – along with the country’s political class, which once more looks set to follow rather than to lead – starts to realise that no easy way out exists if the refugee/migrant wave keeps rising (and coming). Pushbacks at sea are not only illegal; they are unthinkable in practical terms. Bringing back closed camps for those waiting for their asylum request to be processed, or even for those rejected but with no real way to be returned to their country of origin is equally a no-go. Last, but by no means least, cutting corners in the asylum procedures by curtailing rights of appeal is also off the table, notwithstanding earlier positions aired.
So… no easy ways out. Buckle up and wait for increased turbulence!