Greece Dealing Humanely with New Refugee Crisis, Mitsotakis Says

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during an open discussion with New York Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen. Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – His government planning to both speed the processing of asylum applications but also deportations to Turkey of refugees and migrants deemed ineligible for sanctuary, Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis said they are being dealt with humanely despite criticism that detention centers and camps housing them aren’t fit for humans.

Greece has more than 78,000 refugees and migrants sent by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during an essentially suspended swap deal with the European Union, including some 28,000 on islands, the numbers swelling again after New Democracy won July 7 snap elections.

They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan but also economic misery in other countries, including sub-Saharan Africa and are seeking asylum in Greece with the EU having closed its borders to them.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, at the Athens Democracy Forum, had a discussion with Mitsotakis and  referred to what he called “the resilience of Greek humanity through such hardship,” citing his experience on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos at the peak of the migration crisis in September 2015.

“What is it about Greece that even in the midst of deep crisis it resists the transactional nature of modern society and retains the ability to look a human being in the eye, realize that human being has certain basic rights, including the right to human dignity?” he asked.

“Maybe because that’s who we are and I’m proud of that,” Mitsotakis responded, adding, however, that, “This should not be perceived as weakness of the Greek state to protect its own territory,” reported Kathimerini.

He acknowledged his Conservative government is introducing a “rigid migration policy” that will speed up the process of granting asylum to refugees entitled to protection and deporting those who are not.

“We have basically sent the signal in the past years that the easiest way into Europe is through Greece. Of course we will take care of a shipwreck in the middle of the Aegean but that does not mean we don’t have an obligation to our citizens to manage what is no longer a refugee problem but primarily an economic migration problem in a much more effective manner,” Mitsotakis said.

He didn’t mention a recent riot at the detention center on Lesbos that sparked a fire killing a woman and her child, nor the frequent violence and clashes between ethnic groups and with riot police and with people living in tents as colder weather approaches, nor the condition of the camps on the islands, some said littered with feces, not enough toilets or medical care.

Still, in response to a question about migrants being removed from abandoned buildings in the anarchist-dominated Athens neighborhood of Exarchia where he said they would be squashed, he said they weren’t being abused.

An Afghan woman who identified herself as Ariane and said she was evicted from a squat told him, “Me and my family were in the streets.”

He responded: “We are providing as humane conditions as possible for everyone who’s seeking asylum in this country. What I will not accept as prime minister is for refugees to be taken advantage of by networks of illegal activities and to be placed in buildings under occupation,” putting the blame on anarchist groups such as the notorious Rouvikonas group.