My heart sank when I read in the paper that Burkina Faso is on the brink of civil war. More people wanting to come over here, was my first thought.
The refugee crisis has gone on for so long, and is so out of control, that serious political and economic dimensions have been added to the humanitarian aspect.
On the one hand, it has become big business. Here is some number crunching:
It costs a minimum of €1200 per person for the passage from Bodrum to Kos. For 50 people in each boat this equals a whopping €60.000! And that’s just for a short crossing – I have no idea what traffickers from Libya make, when they pile 700-800 people into a rust bucket and cast it off without enough fuel to reach Italy…
Once you get to Greece, apparently kickbacks are extracted everywhere: €200 to get to the head of the queue, €200 to get on the bus, and so on. A lot of these ‘facilitators’ are themselves Syrian.
It’s €4000 from Morocco across the straights of Gibraltar to Tarifa in Spain. By jet ski! Although it is very dangerous since it is beyond the safe range, the trip must be undertaken under cover of darkness and the water is freezing.
For wealthier Syrians, safer, more comfortable trips can be arranged via Dubai to Turkey, then from Izmir to Rhodes on larger boats. A few more thousand euros then have to be paid out in taxis, hotels and fake documents. I read an interview with a Syrian doctor who had turned ‘travel agent’ after failing to cross over himself – he was saying people trust him because he’s a doctor and prided himself on not having a single person die on his boats.
On the other hand, attitudes are hardening:
Donald Tusk, the EU president, has claimed that migrants are being sent to Europe as a campaign of “hybrid warfare” to force concessions to its neighbors. An influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees becomes a “weapon” and a “political bargaining chip” used by the EU’s neighbors who want to put pressure on Europe to obtain extra aid or other benefits.
Mr Tusk warned that the Schengen system of passport-free travel would collapse and Europe would become a “breeding ground of fear” unless Europe’s external borders are secure. There is mounting frustration in Brussels at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s refusal to seal Turkey’s coasts and border with Greece.
At the same time, a controversial plan to relocate 160,000 people from Greece and Italy to other parts of the EU by quota was announced.
The countries that refused this project, one of which is Romania, claimed that the immigrants will alter the fabric of their society. That’s as it may be, but people from these countries have themselves emigrated in the not so distant past. Greece accepted more than 20,000 Romanian refugees after the fall of communism. Did they ask themselves if they would alter the fabric of our society?
Unfortunately, the West does bear a part of responsibility for this situation, by meddling in these people’s countries. As usual, economic interests are mostly to blame. For one, the arms industry needs wars in order to make a profit – then there is oil, and minerals, and construction… Now we have to deal with the fall-out. Theoretically, it would make a lot more sense to spend the money making their countries safe for them, than dealing with them in Europe. It is probably too late now. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has suggested there should be a safe haven organized for them in the Middle East. I don’t know how feasible that would be, but I do think the Arab world should be doing more to help.
Meanwhile, in Athens, the situation remains dire.
On September 30th, a friend of mine went to Victoria Square, in downtown Athens, to evaluate the migrant situation first-hand. This is what she wrote:
‘Flanked by three friends, all laden with bags bulging with juice boxes, cans of long-life milk, packets of biscuits and cereal bars, markers, children’s books and clothes, I exited my car on the busiest side of the square. We were immediately accosted by tens of people, including many children.
I wasn’t psychologically prepared to be faced with such palpable desperation. The situation was worse than I’d imagined. And a thousand times more unsettling, too.
People grabbed at the bags, tore them straight out of our hands, served themselves to as many goods as they could carry. We made sure the children received priority but, soon, we were mobbed by grown men, too.
It was actually pretty terrifying. If you don’t see it first hand, it’s hard to fathom how bad it is.
Turns out the people here were not political refugees from Syria. These were all illegal immigrants from Afghanistan. I was shocked to find that they were not even all that grateful for the things we’d brought.
I certainly don’t regret going, but, having said that, I value my safety and I’m not about to go back any time soon. I would not recommend that unprepared civilians intervene, but I did approach a harried-looking volunteer from Holland who shed some light as to what you can do if you really must help in person.
1- Bring warm clothing, blankets and socks. With winter coming, this is what they will need the most.
2- Bring food, always a necessity.
3- Circulate with a zippered bag rather than paper or plastic, both of which tear easily, and hand the goods out directly to the people you choose. Keep moving. Stay too long in one place and you will be mobbed. (Easier said than done.)
4- Prioritize women and children. The men come third.
5- Make sure you are not carrying valuables. Gypsies who roam amongst the Afghans are quick to pounce on unsuspecting strangers.
The situation is really too bad to be true and pressing questions arise: where will all these people live should they choose—or be forced—to stay here? After all, they can’t camp out forever.’
Other friends who ventured to Victoria square told me approximately the same things, adding, however, that the baker where they went to buy food for the refugees gave them ten loaves which he also cut into pieces for them.The same thing happened to us, when we went to buy medicines for them at a pharmacy. The pharmacist added a large number of freebies to our bag. Greeks, whatever their other faults, remain human and sensitive to the pain of their fellow men.
Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, says:
Greece has made me think about everything statistics don’t tell you. No European country has been as battered in recent years. No European country has responded with as much consistent humanity to the refugee crisis.
For the whole article, click here.