From the border to the harbour: the Greek tragedy goes on

The inaction of many EU countries in resettling refugees is creating many problems for the Greeks. It's also causing a lot of problems for the refugees, if one is allowed to mention them. 

Qusay Loubani
1 July 2016

View of Mikrolimano Marina, Piraeus. Source: Wikimedia CommonsA long way to travel from Idomeni to Athens and another hard and exhausting journey has been added to the many that took place before. The aspiration was to get rid of the plague of useless waiting in Idomeni, a few days before the Greek authorities shut it down, planning for a better next step in Athens that could get us out of Greece to some other western European country, where we could go back to something called normal life.

Here we are now for two weeks at the Athenian harbour Piraeus, where tens, maybe a few hundreds of refugees camp around the hall, in which regular travellers can buy their tickets for national and international routes. The scene is not that terrible at all for those who have seen other refugee camps around Greece, actually the people’s nature around here tends to the colour of the calm blue sea and the sands of time run slowly watching the huge tourist liners travel by.

Tourists have come from many other countries to go sightseeing and tour the ancient places, in which they hope to catch a whiff of the antique Greek epics inspired by the tragic poems of Homer. They are shocked to face us refugees who have fled our homes carrying our own war epics to face psychological traumas along the way.

The first pictures their cameras get to snap are not those of ancient monuments or Greek wine taverns, but are the features of deep and mature misery on these faces, of whom they have already often heard and seen on the TV. For the tourists this is a very embarrassing moment; and for me, well, it is one of the biggest contradictions between expectations and crude facts I've ever seen.

The days of Idomeni have come to an end. The evacuation of the wild camp has made all refugees abandon the idea that the borders to Macedonia could re-open in the near future and at least it squashed the rumours of these borders becoming open any time soon.

On the other hand, Idomeni has been, in addition to being medially and humanly the most popular refugee camp in Europe for many months, the last hope for asylum seekers to prevail over the entirety of cold European immigration laws that seek to stop them in their tracks.  

Now many things have changed and the main topic among the fugitives is about the relocation program, according to which they should be distributed among the countries of the EU. Long feared by many of them, this program is now the very last hope to leave their own Greek tragedy behind. No matter how slow the relocation is taking place, no matter the extent to which the program really exists and no matter how marginal the gains may be at the end of it.

To register in this program you have to go through a pre-registration stage, where your “eligibility”, means which country do you come from: prove it. With that over, you come to the registration itself, through which your “priority”- the old, the children and the sick arefor example prioritised above others - will also be verified before you get lastly to the point where you to can talk about your relocation. This stage includes of course a few interviews with long periods of waiting among them, and so on and so forth.

All this is taking place within the framework of an emergency plan in a country that is groaning with its own troubles and suffering from severe economic problems, under which they haven't seen any good times for about a decade now.

The Greek cries out to its European neighbours to please accelerate proceedings concerning the refugee relocations. Now they have started the need is overwhelming. But most European countries shirk the responsibility they decided to bear as the union met and decided a refugee quota system with exact numbers for each country.

To come back to earth, this current situation of many non-acting EU countries is creating a lot of problems as the Greeks try to make it work. It's also causing a lot of problems for the refugees, if one is allowed to mention them.

Many refuse being relocated to economically weaker EU countries such as Romania or Bulgaria, because there is no hope to find good economic circumstances there, a space in which they could build up a future for themselves and for their children. They are then met with one of two choices: to stay in Greece or go back to Turkey. The majority stays. This again produces more difficulties for the Greek government, making it unable to handle the whole situation reasonably.

Another complication that the refugees in Piraeus are facing is the place itself. The humanitarian help organisations working around here assure us that the place we are staying at is an unofficial one, so it is impossible for the refugees to get registered unless they “relocate” themselves to another official camp.

On the contrary, the UN staff in their nearby bureau refuse these “speculations” and assure us that the relocation program will include all refugees in Greece no matter where they are staying. After a whole slew of Q&A's to be sure we are acting rightly, we can’t get one satisfactory reply. My wife and I are left with the continual assurance that all refugees will gradually get registered by the end of June.

Uncertainty is a big challenge when officials don't possess enough details about the work they are supposed to deal with and no reliable information regarding the time period in which they need to get it done. The act of closing down the border to Macedonia and the evacuation of Idomeni and other camps has put Greece and the refugees under pressure from two sides: on the one hand, an emergency readiness to act quickly the moment a relocation starts, which has been sabotaged by the obligatory evacuation of many refugees from so called hot spots to other “illegal” camps or even other areas that are not suitable for living, with the result that they are again leaving them; and on the other hand moving them out, if at all, in a very slow rhythm.

Somehow or other the EU-Turkish agreement about handling the “refugee crisis” - and not their own - has achieved nothing but much more trouble for the EU, much more money for Erdogan, many condolences to Merkel’s party and a painful human downfall at Europe’s doors. Sure, the Greeks are busy, the NGO's are busy, and the refugees are busy too.

Translated by Salim El-Jafari, Cologne.


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