ATHENS: The migration wave lapping at Europe’s door has hit Greece’s election campaign, with mainstream parties struggling for a solution as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party waits in the wings hoping to capitalise on voter anger. But much like the European Union, which is battling to come up with a unified response, the two leading...
ATHENS: The migration wave lapping at Europe’s door has hit Greece’s election campaign, with mainstream parties struggling for a solution as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party waits in the wings hoping to capitalise on voter anger.
But much like the European Union, which is battling to come up with a unified response, the two leading contenders for Greece’s Sunday vote — leftist Alexis Tsipras and conservative Vangelis Meimarakis — are offering little by way of an answer for the future.
In office as premier until August, Tsipras stands accused of opening the gates to thousands of exiles fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
“(Tsipras) sent a message that people are fine here, that you should come too, that it’s summer… so the number of illegal migrants spiked,” Meimarakis said during a televised debate this week.
Tsipras’s radical left Syriza party had long campaigned to naturalise migrants living in Greece for years, and on taking office in January, his government moved to shut down migrant detention camps introduced by the previous conservative government.
“There are 2.5 million people because of (the) Syria (war) waiting to cross,” Meimarakis said.
“There should have been bureaucracy on the islands, to help (the refugees) move on,” he added, referring to over 230,000 people who have landed on Greek island beaches since the beginning of the year.
“As regards illegal migrants, we must send them back,” he said.
Tsipras has dismissed such criticism, noting that migration is a “global phenomenon” that Greece is ill-equipped to handle without European help.
– Stronger EU surveillance –
“The Greek coastguard cannot cope with 16,500 kilometres (10,000 miles) of maritime border, even if we were to send in the entire navy. We want stronger surveillance” by EU border agency Frontex, he said on Monday.
The EU has promised 474 million euros ($535 million) in funds by 2020 to help manage the problem.
Over the summer, Greece’s Aegean islands, a stone’s throw from the Turkish coast, were overwhelmed by massive refugee and migrant arrivals that caught local authorities unprepared.
The mainly Syrian refugees, often accompanied by children, were largely left to sleep in the open with minimal access to food, water or sanitation as bouts of violence erupted between police and migrants desperate to sail on to Athens.
Moving slowly, Tsipras’s government eventually dispatched extra police to the islands to speed up the local registration of migrants and chartered a ferry to ease the pressure on the island population.
But Athens has so far failed to announce progress on starting to identify and fingerprint migrants at the main port of Piraeus, a measure decided in August just before the Tsipras government resigned.
And according to the Greek migration ministry, another 2,000 people continue to arrive on a daily basis.
“Around 60 percent are Syrians and some 25 percent are Afghans,” says Anna Triantafyllou, a migration expert at the University of Florence.
Given precedence as refugees fleeing war, the Syrians swiftly make their way to the Macedonian border and move further north, hoping to reach Germany and Sweden via Hungary.
But other nationalities who land in Athens are stuck and again forced to sleep out in squares and parks.
This makes the issue fertile ground for Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that is the country’s third strongest political force — though with single digit popularity — despite an ongoing criminal trial targeting most of its leading members.
“I hear that Golden Dawn members are able to move more freely on these islands than before,” says Manolis Alexakis, a professor of sociology at the University of Crete. “It’s certainly a boost.”
The party is credited with around six percent of the vote, holding steady despite the probe initiated after the murder of an anti-fascist rapper in 2013.
Meanwhile, EU states have failed to overcome their differences.
On Monday, EU ministers again failed to reach agreement on a quota plan to share the refugee burden, prompting German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to say that the bloc had “disgraced itself.”
If the quota system fails to get off the ground, “Greece could become a trap” for populations in transit, migration expert Triantafyllou notes. – AFP