EU-Turkey deal fails to stem refugee flight to Greece

Karolina Tagaris
 
They waved, cheered and smiled, elated to have made it to Europe at dawn on Sunday in a packed blue rubber motor boat.
 
The 50 or so refugees and migrants were among the first to arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos on day one of an EU deal with Turkey designed to close the route by which a million people crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece in 2015.
 
Exhausted but relieved, the new arrivals wrapped their wet feet in thermal blankets as volunteers handed out dry clothes and supplies.
 
Reuters witnesses saw three boats arrive within an hour in darkness in the early hours of Sunday. Two men were pulled out unconscious from one of the boats amid the screams of fellow passengers and were later pronounced dead.
 
Twelve boats had arrived on the shoreline near the airport by 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), a police official said. A government account put the number of arrivals across Greece in the past 24 hours at 875 people.
 
Under the European Union deal with Turkey, all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally by sea from March 20 will be sent back to Turkey once they are registered and their asylum claims have been processed.
 
That is expected to take effect from April 4, by which time Greece must have in place a fast-track process for assessing asylum claims. The EU has pledged to help Greece set up a task force of some 4,000 staff, including judges, interpreters, border guards and others to manage each case individually.
 
"The agreement comes into effect from today. Greek authorities have done whatever is necessary and will continue to do what it promised," George Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the refugee crisis, told Reuters.
"Other parties (to the agreement) should also do their part," he said, referring to Greece's EU partners and Turkey.
 
In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
 
Among the early morning arrivals on the seaweed strewn beach on the south of Lesbos was Syrian Hussein Ali Muhammad, whose studies were interrupted after the war began. He said he wanted to go to Denmark to continue university. Asked if he was aware of the European decision, he said:
"I know that. I hope to cross these borders. I hope I complete my studies here (in Europe), just this. I don't want money, I just want to complete my studies. This is my message."
 
Muhammed, who worked odd jobs in Turkey to pay a smuggler to bring him across, said he did not want to go back. "I worked very, very hard in Turkey, I collected the money to come here ... It's very dangerous and not good."
 
Another arrival, 30-year-old computer engineer Mohammed from Daraa in Syria, said he hoped to stay in Greece until he found a way to be reunited with his wife and son inGermany. "I know the decision. I hope to (meet with) my wife and children," he said.
 
DOUBTS
Doubts remain about whether the deal is legal or workable. It was not clear what would happen to the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees already in Greece.
 
It was too early to say if the deal would be effective, a senior coastguard official said. "We haven't yet seen the terms of the deal properly," said Antonis Sofiadelis, head of the coastguard operations on Lesbos.
 
"But if returns begin I believe it will act as a deterrent. They (migrants) won't want to pay $1,000-2,000 to a smuggler. Everything depends on whether Turkey implements its part of the deal.
"What we're doing on our part is boosting the asylum process."
 
Authorities in Lesbos began removing refugees and migrants from the island on Saturday to make space for new arrivals. The island has a capacity to host 3,500 people at a place set up to register arrivals.
 
At least 144,000 people, mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, have arrived in Greece so far in 2016 according to U.N. refugee agency data. About 60 percent were women and children.
 
Of those people, more than half landed on Lesbos, the island on the frontline of Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War Two.
 
Few, if any, had planned to stay in the country, seeking instead a route to northern Europe where more support and jobs are available than in Greece, which is in the grip of an economic crisis.
 
But border closures along the main route north through the Balkans have meant at least 48,000 people are stranded in Greece, in camps and ports across the country. About 12,000 people remain at a squalid tent camp near the Macedonian border hoping to cross.

First published on uk.reuters.com, 21.3.2016
 
 

Ahmad al-Mohammad. Is Greece an entry point for Jihadists into Europe?

ISIS hates refugees, but in Europe refugees are stigmatized as potential jihadists
 
 
The key revelation of the police search on the 13th November massacre was the fact that most of the attackers were French, and some of them were Belgian. For the second time following the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath, it was once more shown that jihadist terrorism is not an imported phenomenon, supposedly originating outside of Europe – which in turn shows that the stricter border controls now being sought by France (among others), and the stigmatization of refugees by the European far right, is not only racist, but also absolutely futile as regards combating ISIS.  And yet, this past week, this dimension was overshadowed by an odd finding outside the Stade de France: a Syrian passport, in the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, found next to a dead kamikaze bomber.
 
On 3rd October, in Leros, Greek authorities verified a man of Syrian origin carrying the same passport, as the Greek Minister for Migration Policy explained to the Greek media. That man had filed an asylum claim in southern Serbia, in the Preševo reception center; since then, his tracks were lost in Croatia. The news spread very quickly, with very specific Greek newspapers (Proto Thema, Ta Nea, etc.) at the source. Thus, despite the lessons from Charlie Hebdo, the usual attempts to link refugees with terrorism, as had been attempted in January by the Greek right and far right, once more dominated the public sphere. It would be grotesque if it weren’t dangerous: one of the four nominees for New Democracy president (elections will take place on Sunday 21/ November), Adonis Georgiadis, clearly blamed the Prime Minister and the former Minister for Migration Policy for the massacre in Paris, while the alarmist discourse on Greece turning into an entry point for jihadists into Europe was manifest in various guises in news broadcasts and newspapers in the days following the attack.
 
At the same time, credible critical voices, such as that of Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian, as well as left-leaning journalists in Greece, warned that the finding must be approached with caution; not only because it was strange for a suicide bomber to carry a passport, but also because ISIS itself targets refugees fleeing to “heathen Europe”. These voices were of course right. Last Sunday evening, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira confirmed that the passport found next to the dead kamikaze was fake, indeed a good quality forgery, as Greek authorities had stated they were certain it was an original, while it took French authorities two days to prove it was in fact fake. Moreover, last Monday, Serbian authorities announced the arrest of a migrant in the Preševo reception center, who had in his possession a passport identical to the one found in Paris, except for the photograph. Serbian newspaper Blic explained that “it’s highly likely that the two men separately bought fake Syrian passports from the same forger in Turkey”. On 16th November, a Daily Mail correspondent posed for a photograph holding a fake Syrian passport under the same name, which he claimed to have obtained in just four days, for a $2000 fee. The French Press Agency (Agence France-Presse) closed the case just last Tuesday, by announcing that the “real” Ahmad al-Mohammad probably was a Syrian member of Assad’s army, who had been killed many months ago.
 
Following the revelation that the passport was indeed fake, Greek authorities began exploring a scenario for which professional propagandists of refugee intolerance were unprepared: the possibility that the jihadists carried the fake Syrian passport in an attempt to incriminate the refugees fleeing Syria for Europe. It could be said that this was a perfect partnership between jihadism and European far-right, with Syrian refugees as the target: a “Folie à deux”, whereby one half fiercely rages against the other, but in fact the two complement each other. Speaking on Tuesday evening to journalists in Berlin, German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, explained: “There are clear indications that this piece of evidence had been “planted”, though we cannot exclude the possibility that this man was indeed an “Islamic State” terrorist, posing as a refugee. On the other hand, the calculated placement of the passport next to the dead body, perhaps by an accomplice, may be aimed at incriminating refugees for terrorist attacks, and increasing the feeling of insecurity”.
 
Unfortunately, this anti-refugee “Folie à deux”, with ISIS and the European far right at the helm, tends to become dogma for the European Union. Therefore, and despite the fact that all evidence points to the fact that the massacre in Paris had nothing to do with refugees, Greek Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship , Dimitris Avramopoulos, referring to the attacks on 13th November, announced the bad news from Brussels: the European Commission “will hasten its efforts towards the adoption of a security policy based on, among other things, tighter control of the external borders and disincentives for migrants without papers”. In the aftermath of the bloodbath in France, refugee solidarity movements in Greece and Europe have even harder work to do.

Europe is cynical towards the refugee issue

Interview of Srećko Horvat to Anastasia Giamali
 
We all saw last week a photograph depicting an endless convoy of refugees walking in fiedls in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by a horseman . Perhaps this scene was from Slovenia. The scene is very similar to the convoy of WW2 prisoners. Do you think that some countries derive some sort of "satisfaction" from such disparaging attitudes or is it a purely defensive approach of societies scared of the "foreing", the "different", the "muslim"?
You know what’s the problem with that photograph? The same as with all the other sad and cruel photographs. Who still remembers Aylan Kurdi who drowned off and was washed up on a beach in Turkey in his red T-shirt, blue pants and tiny shoes at the beginning of September 2015? How many before him, how many after him? This whole “aestheticization” creates “anestheticization”. Even if we are bombarded by all these images everyday, at some point we don’t care anymore, life has to go on. The ordinary European has his own problems, and we can’t blame him. But national governments of Europe are lost, they don’t even have any particular “satisfaction”, they are just lost and they forgot what Europe really means. And even worse, the EU is also lost. But even more responsible than any national government.  
 
Do you think that the entry and establishment of a large number of refugees or immigrants in Europe would cause significant changes in European societies ?
Yes, of course. It always did. But why would that be bad? Europe is dying anyhow, it is a continent that is aging, and above all, it is a continent where utopia is dying. No one speaks about utopia anymore. Maybe the refugees can bring some sort of utopia. Or to put it in a very simple example: you know that the most typical, the most “authentic” Italian food, such as pizza or pasta, wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t migration? Tomato came from Latin America, and pasta from Asia. So we could say that the most “authentic” Italian thing is not “authentic” all, it is a product of centuries of interference of cultures. Of course, Europe will change, after this huge migration. Nearly 250,000 refugees have passed through the Balkans since mid-September, of cours this will leave traces.
 
People who have been taken away from their homelands , in this savage way, are emotionally "wounded", are eternally marked  by this adventure? Will they carry as long as they live the "capacity" of the refugee or is it something that will wear off as their life gets back on track?
Listen, I wouldn’t play this game here. I was a refugee myself, together with my father who got a political asylium in Germany, my familiy lived as refugees, or as the Germans called it “gastarbeiter”. And I’m not “wounded” or marked at all, even today I live like some sort of “refugee” without an address at all. During whole July, for instance, I lived in Athens. Anyhow, the very opportunity to build your life from the very beginning, when you know that some doors are closed forever, is something that gives you the strength. All these refugees that are coming to Europe are, in this sense, a big hope for me.  
 
Is there a reason why the former Eastern countries are tougher on immigration or is it just because they are dealing with larger numbers of refugees?
First we must say that none of these countries was prepared for what would happen. Except Hungary, of course, but for different reasons. This is at the same time the responsibility of national governments, but we must stress it is foremost a big failure of the European leaders who only recently met to discuss it seriously, although the refugee crisis is going on for months when it comes to the Balkans Migration Route, for years when it comes to the Mediterranean, especially Italy and Greece. So again, the EU was cynical: only when the problem started to penetrate into the centre of Europe, namely the Western countries, it started to be a problem. You probably remember that Matteo Renzi, not so long ago, warned the EU that Europe, if it wants to be Europe, has to take on this problem as a single bloc. This is the Plan A. And if Europe doesn’t choose solidarity, countries such as Italy, said Renzi, had a Plan B that will “hurt Europe”. This is now happening, with Hungary’s wall, with soldiers and tanks defending national borders, as if we were under some kind of war.
 
What should be the role of a country that "guards" the european borders like Greece or Italy?
Pardon my English, but Greece and Italy, parallel to helping all refugees as much as they can, should say “f*** you Europe”. It is the EU which in the first place created this problem, and now all the countries of the periphery, such as Italy or Greece, Serbia or Croatia, must suffer the consequences again. And what do we have now? We don’t only have “guards” of the European outskirts, we also have walls between countries such as Hungary and Serbia, Hungary and Croatia, and just recently Slovenia hints it might build a fence along the Croatian border to control migration. Europe fucked it up big time, this is the boomerang of our wars in Lybia, Syria and so on. Or, as a nice caricature showed these days, first we had export (of weapons), now we have import (of refugees). My proposal, and I hope leaders such as Alexis Tsipras, who rightly criticised the EU that as “a critical partner” in the refugee crisis Turkey was not invited to Brussels, will realise that it is the countries of the periphery, from Greece to Italy, from Croatia to Serbia, that have to unite and coordinate, that can build a possible new bloc.
 
Srećko Horvat  is a philosopher, and political activist from Croatia. He is the author of What Does Europe Want? The Union and its Discontents (with Slavoj Žižek) and The Radicality of Love.

Anastasia Giamali is a journalist at the left Greek  daily newspaper “Avgi”.


 
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