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Europe is once again turning a blind eye to another unprecedented crisis unfolding in Greece – an Arctic blast that is currently bringing freezing weather and heavy snowfall to a number of camps hosting asylum seekers across the country. Greeks themselves are struggling to stay warm, while trying to simultaneously rescue refugees and migrants who are dangerously exposed to the extreme elements. The question is: Where is Europe?
Following a tumultuous year of border closures, a widely criticized deal with Turkey that is responsible for over 15,000 people stranded on Greece’s Aegean islands, and forgotten promises from Brussels, Greece continues to bear the burden of Europe’s migrant crisis. Greece, whose population is also suffering through the bitter cold, is working tirelessly within its limited means to meet its obligations and improve the conditions of the large number of the refugees and migrants at reception centers throughout the country. Recently, Athens sent a Greek navy vessel to Lesvos to provide emergency shelter for 500 refugees and migrants exposed to the cold. Stressing the urgency of the situation, the UN Refugee Agency called on governments to do more to help. “It’s about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements.”
Europe, however, is comfortable pointing its finger and avoiding any responsibility. The European Commission recently stated that conditions on the Greek islands were “untenable.” Instead of stepping up to the plate, however, Brussels pushed all responsibility for the refugee crisis onto Greek authorities. With over 62,000 asylum seekers trapped within its borders, Greece’s asylum service is overstretched, understaffed, and faces a growing backlog of applications.
While Europe is quick to condemn Greece, it conveniently forgets its own glaring failures. Only a fraction of the asylum experts the EU promised Greece have arrived and relocations from Europe are woefully far from their target number. Only a small number of the 160,000 people Greece’s European partners pledged to relocate from Greece and Italy – Europe’s frontline states – have found new homes. To top it off, Germany, where immigration is a prominent issue leading up to elections in the fall, is now preparing to send migrants back to Greece starting in March.
It was not too long ago that over one million refugees and migrants passed through Greece in pursuit of safety and a better life far from the war and destruction devastating their homeland. When multitudes of desperate people washed onto Greece’s shores, Greeks, despite their struggles, opened their doors and demonstrated to the world the kind of selflessness and solidarity that prompted Pope Francis to proclaim that Greece was an “example of humanity.” Sadly, Europe’s politicians are happy to dump responsibility for the migration crisis on Greece’s overwhelmed shoulders, cynically abandoning their principles of solidarity to score political points back home.Back to top