ATHENS – A study by the Greek think tank diaNEOsis said it found 91 percent of refugees and migrants coming to Greece – almost always through Turkey – are running from war zones and violence and not just looking for work or better economic conditions.
There are some 100,000 in the country, including about 42,000 in island detention centers and camps near Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union.
Almost all are seeking asylum, a process that can take two years or longer, setting off frequent violence in the camps between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell the troubles.
The situation has worsened with island officials and residents fiercely resisting the New Democracy government’s plans for new centers aimed at sorting out those ineligible for sanctuary, which is rarely granted.
Some 14,000 have been moved to the mainland but the government plans to seize properties to build the new centers has infuriated those on the islands who fear they will become permanent and set off pitched battles.
With Turkey now opening its borders to let scores of thousands more try to get into Greece the problem has become perilous for the government and with the study showing the huge majority of refugees and migrants should be eligible for asylum.
With the EU closing its borders to them and other countries reneging on promises to help take some of the overload, the problem had been largely dumped on Greece during its long-running economic and austerity crisis and undercutting a slow recovery.
Over the past five years, more than two million people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea trying to get into the EU, said the United Nations, which has done almost nothing to help Greece or other prime destinations, including Italy, Malta and Spain.
The diaNEOsis project, said Kathimerini in a report, showed the views and attitudes of the new influx of refugees and migrants, while juxtaposing the answers with those of older migration waves living in Greece for many years.
A total of 800 migrants and refugees participated in the survey’s comprehensive questionnaire, coordinated by Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni, Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Leiden, and Dr Vasileios Leontitsis, lecturer in Globalization Studies at the University of Brighton, in collaboration with Kapa Research.
The finding, said the report, dispelled many stereotypes of refugees and migrants among Greek society and politics, primarily that most are economic migrants and not fleeing war and strife.
“This is a very serious issue often overlooked in public debate – where, as a rule of thumb, migrants and refugees, regardless of origin, are considered one and the same,” diaNEOsis noted in its research.
The survey added that 75 percent of new asylum seekers have experienced air strikes, 69 percent have survived bomb attacks, and 53 percent have seen their own home destroyed.
While many Greeks also think the refugees and migrants – most Muslim or not Christian – are highly religious, the survey found otherwise, with 75 percent saying they aren’t.
The vast majority of recent migrants are staying in containers in refugee camps, with only 15 percent saying that they live in apartments or houses while long-term Albanians who came to Greece over the years own their own homes.
While compassion fatigue has set in on the islands after the refugees and migrants were greeted and aided when they began coming in 2015, most of the arrivals said they felt gratitude and love for the reception they got from Greeks, known for philoxenia, friend to the stranger.