Thursday, 24 September 2020

Rights groups blast Greece for asylum violations

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International. 


Two aid organisations are asking the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece for violations of Europe’s asylum law.


Oxfam and WeMove Europe say a Greek asylum law that took effect this year has made it deliberately easy to disqualify asylum applicants and difficult for them to appeal rejections.


The groups say these violations are taking place “deliberately, on a drastic scale, in a systemic manner and on an ongoing basis.”


A senior Greek immigration source speaking on condition of anonymity says that problems in the new asylum law were addressed through a parliamentary amendment in May.

Friday, 4 September 2020

For Greece, the Battle of Salamis Never Ended

This article was published by The Wall Street Journal.

Courtesy: Bjorn Lovén

It’s unusual for a modern Greek audience to punctuate an ancient tragedy with applause. But in July, a production of Aeschylus’ “The Persians” by the National Theatre of Greece, presented in the splendor of the ancient theater of Epidauros, was applauded three times on its final night, with the prime minister in attendance. The play relates the Greeks’ stunning victory at the naval battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., where 300 Greek ships defeated an invading Persian fleet four times larger. The historic triumph secured Athenian naval power in the Aegean and established Athenian-inspired democracies across Greece.
The performance was one of several celebratory events planned for the 2,500th anniversary of Salamis. Amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus, Greek authorities aren’t sure how many of them will come to fruition by September 29, the presumed date of the battle. But just days before the performance at Epidauros, Greece braced for a repetition of the battle itself.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Threatening Greece, Turkey is testing Europe’s sovereignty


Turkey is expanding its influence across the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece stands in its way. What will the EU do?


John Psaropoulos

Twice in three weeks this summer, Greece and Turkey poised to clash in the Eastern Mediterranean. On July 21 and August 10, Turkey announced it would start looking for oil and gas deposits on what Greece considers its continental shelf east of Crete.


The Greek armed forces went on alert. Greek and Turkish navies fanned out across the Aegean and east Mediterranean.


The two NATO allies have come closer to open conflict than they have since 1996, when Turkey planted a flag on a rocky Greek islet in the Aegean, and since 1987, when Turkey again sent a survey ship into the north Aegean.


While war in the Aegean cannot be ruled out, it is unlikely to be Turkey’s preferred option. It would isolate Turkey diplomatically, and possibly bankrupt it with sanctions. It is more likely that Turkey seeks to corner Greece into a maritime territorial settlement that skirts past established international legal norms, or forces Greece, and later Cyprus, to declare their vast continental shelves joint development zones with Turkey. 


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Statement from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Greece is a proud and powerful country. A member of the European family and a pillar of stability in the eastern Mediterranean. We remain unwaveringly committed to the principles of International Law and the rules of good neighbourliness. We seek to build bridges of peace, good faith, and cooperation with everyone.

Our country never threatens but will not suffer blackmail either. This is why it does not succumb to threats or tolerate provocative acts.

We negotiated and signed the agreements on maritime zone demarcation with Italy and, more recently, with Egypt, guided by this principled policy. These agreements are completely aligned with the Law of the Sea.
They demonstrate that long-standing disputes can be resolved when there is good will and a spirit of trust, and ensure progress and prosperity for the peoples, always in line with International Law.

It is in this very framework of legality that we are prepared to enter into discussions with all our neighbours, confidently and without concessions.

EU south hails step towards federalism, but north sees one-off handout

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.


Greeks awoke pleasantly surprised to the news that Europe’s leaders had agreed on a 750bn euro stimulus package for the continent’s economy, called NextGenerationEU.


With newspapers having gone to bed hours before the dawn deal in Brussels, most people got wind of it from the airwaves.


“Will I be able to finance the new shop windows?” asks Jenny, a butcher’s wife in central Athens who wants to remodel her husband’s shop so that people can sit down and sample the cold cuts.


Greece’s economy is forecast to shrink by as much as 9 percent this year, as the coronavirus hits tourism and merchant shipping, two industries Greece relies on for much of its exports. Merhcants like Jenny’s husband are feeling the pinch.


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Sanctuary and Civilisation

This article was published by the Sewanee Review.

At the dawn of Western civilisation, the greatest Athenian dramatists extolled their city’s compassion for those who sought protection from pursuers, human or divine. In Aischylos’ Erinyes, Orestes, pursued by the Avenging Furies, finds absolution in an Athenian court chaired by Athena herself. In Sophokles’ Oidipous at Kolonos, Oidipous, wandering blind in self-exile across Greece, is assumed into the heavens after being granted sanctuary in an Athenian grove. In Euripides’ Herakleidai, the king of Athens risks war with Argos to provide political asylum to the children of Herakles, fatherless and with a death penalty hanging over them.

None of these asylum-seekers is blameless. Orestes has killed his mother; Oidipous has killed his father; the Herakleidai by their very existence threaten the royal line of Eurystheus, king of Argos. Yet all were somehow manipulated into their predicament by the gods or by fate, all have suffered for it, all are exiled from their homeland and all are unwelcome anywhere else in Greece.

The Athenian audience was flattered to be told that in all Hellas, it was their city that combined strength with generosity. As the children of Herakles cling to the altar of Zeus in Marathon, Euripides puts the following words into the mouth of Demophon, son of Theseus and king of Athens: “If I am to allow this altar to be robbed by a foreigner, it will be thought that it is no free land I govern but that I have betrayed suppliants for fear of the Argives. And that is nearly enough to make me hang myself.”[1]

The word ‘asylum’, though a modern coinage in English, derives from the Greek άσυλον, meaning ‘unviolated’. The word itself suggests that protecting the weak from the strong who mean them harm is not only a moral duty of the righteous; it forms an integral part of our sense of justice and is a pillar of the law, which replaces brute force in civilised society.

The notion of justice as mercy or protection was relatively new compared to the notion of justice as punishment, as a pair of temples at Rhamnous in northeast Attica suggests – the temple to Nemesis, or retribution, is thought to be older than its neighbour, the temple to Themis, or Rule of Law[2]. But thanks to the Athenian tragedians, the strength and will to provide sanctuary to the pursued, and even to forgive them for terrible deeds, have, through the church and the law, formed an inseparable part of our Western ideal of civilisation.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Pandemic pushes harder Greek refugee policy, but also solidarity

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - Greece dispatched 50 unaccompanied minors to Germany on Saturday, the first major wave of some 1,600 intended for relocation to other European Union members. The minors were between the ages of 5 and 16, and were taken from overcrowded camps on Lesvos, Chios and Samos. Another dozen had departed for Luxembourg on Wednesday. 

“In the era of coronavirus, this act of solidarity by the German government is very much appreciated,” said prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who saw the children off at Athens airport. “Dealing with the migration crisis should be a European responsibility. We should be burden-sharing,” he said. 

Greece has been asking for such European solidarity for months, but until last month it wasn’t being heard. Almost as soon as he came to power in July last year, Mitsotakis started pressing the EU for help with some 5,400 more Greece says it cannot cope with. Greece is providing shelter, education and psychological support for some 1,400 minors who seek asylum in Europe, and is trying to raise that number to 2,000 by summer.

No takers came forward until the coronavirus crisis, which coincided with a geopolitical crisis in the Aegean. On February 27, Turkey declared it was opening its borders to asylum-seekers headed for Europe, effectively suspending an agreement struck with the EU in March 2016. Although Turkey also has a border with EU member Bulgaria, in practice Turkish authorities assisted refugees only to the Greek border, creating enormous pressure on Greek authorities.