By Ellie Kalemkeridis,
In the past week, both the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called out the Greek government for their mismanagement of the recent influx of refugees arriving on the Aegean islands. Greece is currently facing the most drastic increase in refugee arrivals since the start of the crisis, with large groups arriving onshore from Turkey every day. Camps are overcrowded to the point of disbelief, resources are scarce and discussions regarding refugee policy within the EU have almost come to a full stop as nationalism, xenophobia, and economic challenges plague societies within sovereign European borders.
The recent influx of refugees paired with a deficit of appropriate resources needed to support and process them has pushed the Greek government to take more extreme measures. In a statement to the Hellenic Parliament before a vote on the bill, Greece’s new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stated, “Enough is enough, enough with those people who know that they are not entitled to asylum and yet they attempt to cross into and stay in our country.” The new asylum legislation will validate far fewer individuals’ appeals for asylum status in an effort to accelerate procedures that have kept thousands waiting in overflowing refugee camps. This new asylum bill, which Human Rights Watch argues will “severely risk access to safeguards for asylum seekers” is only a direct consequence of the international community’s failure to come to a consensus on refugee policy.
Greece has found itself at the center of the refugee crisis since its peak in 2015. Acting as a gateway to Europe from the Near East, Greece bears the burden for the rest of Europe when it comes to the direct handling of human lives fleeing violence. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis promises to bring change to a disillusioned republic that too often has been led astray by false promises of governments in power. Nevertheless, government leadership is now recognizing their own limitations in effectively addressing the internal and external pressures that trouble the nation.
Geographically, Greece is a critical landing point for those migrants passing through Turkey with hopes to enter Europe. Nonetheless, thousands of refugees remain backlogged on the Greek islands since Greece cannot resettle them in their already economically strapped society and other members of the European Union have rescinded their previously accommodating refugee policies. Greece cannot be held responsible for the poor hand they have been dealt. Merely as a result of geography, Greece bears the physical burden the rest of Europe only hears about in policy discussions.
Conditions suitable for the upholding of the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers have already been called into question when individuals witness first-hand the conditions at some of the most overcrowded and underfunded refugee camps, one of those being the Moira Camp on Lesvos. Even outside of the Greek islands, refugees have been stripped of their inherent human dignity and have been subject to negotiations that equate them to political bargaining chips. Turkey has effectively constructed a political narrative regarding the 3.6 million refugees they currently house and has threatened to release them into the West should the EU not work in ways that align with their national interests.
What is at stake should international institutions like the United Nations or the European Union fail to uphold human rights in the actions they take to mediate the refugee crisis? In the vast majority of cases, a refugee’s decision to flee their home state is a direct consequence of their governments’ neglect for human rights and individual freedoms. So what credibility do institutions lose when they risk violating the very principles they work to defend and uphold?
Should EU member states be required to contribute to the management of the crisis? Who is to blame when refugee camps become a spectacle for human rights violations? Not the refugees. Not the country in which they first land. I would argue the wider international community – with even more weight on those states that refuse to offer assistance when they may even be the most capable of doing so.
In times like these, selfish, national interests do not suffice as excuses to remain uninvolved.
The political violence from which refugees flee only continues to escalate as states grow more conservative in their refugee and asylum policies. Refugees will continue to land onshore, regardless of talk of overcrowded and underfunded camps. The crisis is not going away, and neither is the inherent human dignity of each migrant arriving in a foreign land with dreams of safety and security. We cannot currently see a solution for addressing the political inequities that create conditions under which individuals are forced to leave their native countries. That being said, the international community does have agency in choosing how to accommodate victims of violence and grapple with the unfortunate after effects of political instability and violence.