Greece closing its migrant camps: what will impact be?

EUOBSERVER.COM

Greece, a nation struggling economically, has decided to shift its refugee policy to a more constrained and limited one, in an attempt to alleviate the pressure that has been placed on the nation.

Condemnation has been directed towards the Greek government for inhumane practices within the camps, and now authorities are re-inventing the processing system.

However, there is doubt that the situation will improve, and this will most certainly place pressure on surrounding European nations.

As Greece feels the brunt of processing thousands of migrants who seek a better life in Europe, officials have portrayed their anger with European states. Greece’s deputy defence minister pledged that “only those [NGOs] that meet the requirements will stay and continue to operate in the country.”

Greece’s new prime minster Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also been vocal on foreign influences in his country and has said, “Europe regards arrival countries such as Greece as a convenient parking spot for refugees and migrants. Is that European solidarity? No! I will no longer accept this”.

With Greece feeling the effects of the migrant crisis more heavily than any other European nation, Mitsotakis has made it clear that his country will no longer bear the brunt of the migrant influx.

Instead, he is threatening other European countries with sanctions unless they take an equal distribution of refugees.

In light of this change in the Greek refugee policy, many European nations will find it harder to turn a blind eye and may have to start accepting their share in the distribution of refugees.

Accordingly, Greece has already begun to close its notorious refugee camps on the Aegean islands and relocate refugees to the strictly monitored migrant camps on the mainland.

 

Why Is Greece closing its camps?

Since coming to power in July 2019, Greece’s new conservative government has stated three refugee camps housing 38,800 people will be closed.

Greece’s dire situation has seen a sharp influx of migrants this past year according to the UNHCR, and it has disproportionately affected Greece’s small islands.

This has led the Greek government to close its overcrowded migrant camps on the Aegean Islands, as it prepares to send refugees to new camps.

Dunja Mijatovic, Europe’s top human rights official, warned of catastrophe at these camps, stating, “There is a desperate lack of medical care and sanitation in the vastly overcrowded camps I have visited.”

The situation on the small Greek islands of Chios, Samos, and Lesbos has been described as a “struggle for survival”, as families have resorted to digging into the hillside to make temporary shelters.

The EU has condemned Greece on a number of occasions over its treatment of migrants, causing rifts between Greece and its fellow EU members who have a responsibility to assist in this dire situation.

Now, the Greek government has decided to transform the camps and create “closed facilities”, where identification, relocation, and deportation are made easier for authorities.

The new migrant facility in Greece will no doubt create a problem for Europe as a whole, as many migrants will be affected and the burden will soon fall on European nations.

 

What next?

Under the new migration law, only 5,000 migrants will be admitted into the camps at a time. Stelios Petsas, a government spokesman, has said his government seeks to send a message to future migrants hoping to reach their shores that they will be constrained once in Greece.

As a result, many migrants will be left stranded at sea or sent back to Turkey where they are not welcome.

Greek army officials are already pushing back asylum seekers and simultaneously committing acts of abuse.

Those who are lucky enough to enter these camps will continue to face hardships.

If an asylum seeker’s application has been accepted, they have four months to leave the camp and have no assistance in finding accommodation.

With no employment, knowledge of the languages or laws in Greece, thousands of migrants could find themselves being homeless.

Healthcare is also an issue as the Greek government has cut access to public healthcare for migrants, leaving those with long-standing illnesses in a precarious situation.

Also, immunisations have been cut off for migrant children, meaning that the possibility of enrolling in a school is not possible. Additionally, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness in which many migrants arrive with, has been withdrawn from the vulnerability criteria.

This will, of course, prevent migrants from seeking the medical attention that they desperately need and it will only get worse due to the treatment in the migrant camps.

While officials see this as a necessary step to decrease congestion on their small Aegean islands, this could ultimately create worse conditions than the previous system.

The constraints and lack of access to social services will no doubt create a problem for Europe.

As a result, European nations must adhere to their duty and assist Greece with their processing of migrants and provide financial aid to the recovering Greek economy, or they may risk a backlash.

The aforementioned sanctions, threatened by the Greek government, could be implemented soon if the EU refuses to share the burden of responsibility.

Moreover, they could go a step further and pull a trick from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erodgan’s book and open the floodgates into Europe.

Though unprecedented, Greece could knowingly turn a blind eye to smugglers trying to get refugees across its borders, which would impact Greece’s neighbours and major EU powers such as Germany, France, and the UK.

Turkey has used the tactic of threatening the influx of refugees effectively, in leveraging billions in aid from the EU, and Greece could very much do the same under its new conservative government.

Thus, the EU must take Greece seriously in its threats, as they may face an influx of illegal migration and sanctions if they call prime minister Mitsotakis’ bluff.

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