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Monday, 7 March 2016

A crisis within the crisis: Migration flows in Greece in the turmoil of the bailout agreements

George Kailas (St Anne's College, Oxford)

In week 7, SEESOX’s Hilary Term seminar series on South East European Realities amid Europe’s Multiple Crises continued its discussion on the ongoing migration crisis, but focusing in on the country in which its impact has been the greatest, Greece. Chaired by George Kailas (St. Anne’s College, Oxford) and Kostis Karpozoilos (St. Antony’s College, Oxford), Professor Dimitris Christopoulos (Panteion University of Athens) presented his view of developments on the ground in Greece, the achievements and failures of the Greek government, and what he believes must happen next in order to resolve the worsening crisis – all in the context of the economic crisis that continues to cripple the country.

With regard to developments on the ground, Professor Christopoulos argued that the current crisis is not a migration crisis, but a “reception” crisis. Noting that peoples now making their way to Europe amount to only a small fraction of the continent’s total population, he emphasized that there is substantial evidence that over 90% of these peoples are indeed refugees who do have a right to asylum, and pointed to the fact that economic migrants do not bring their families with them when they go abroad. In the same vein, Prof. Christopoulos argued that this crisis is not even a “refugee” crisis, making the case instead that the notion of the EU confronting a “crisis” is only a narrative that originated in Northern and Eastern Europe by states who have not been able to liberalize politically as successfully as they did economically. In this context, the current situation is a reception crisis because Europe as a whole is not willing to accept the refugees who are coming. 

In terms of how the Greek government has managed the crisis thus far, Professor Christopoulos pointed out that even if the government of Alexis Tsipras had done everything perfectly, there would still be difficulties, as the European Union would continue to oppose the resettlement of these refugees. In seeking to explain why the Greek government has struggled so much to adequately confront the crisis, he pointed to the state of the Greek public sector, saying that austerity has decreased capacity to such a degree where the government does not have the necessary means to adequately care for the people surfacing on the country’s shores. In this regard, he emphasized that one of the few actions taken by the SYRIZA government of which he is proud is that the government closed the detention centres that were used in the past to house refugees, labelling them inhumane.
Finally, with regard to what lies ahead for the country, Professor. Christopoulos argued that Greece must a) be an example to the rest of Europe and consent to accepting a large number of refugees indefinitely; and b) negotiate and jointly manage with Turkey a land passage via Evros for the refugees such that they need not risk their lives crossing the Aegean with the “help” of smugglers. According to Christopoulos, if Greece were to take this alternative approach, refugee flows could be more effectively monitored and documented, fewer lives would be lost, and the so-called “crisis” would abate.

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