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. 

Coronavirus accelerates Greece's overdue digital revolution

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International
 
Athens, Greece- While national lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus are ravaging economies around the globe, for Greece the pandemic is forcing a rapid and long overdue embrace of digital platforms that is placing Greek businesses and the government on stronger footing - no matter what comes after coronavirus. 
"Remote work is moving forward in leaps and bounds, and could leave us with an important legacy [after the crisis]," says Marco Veremis, a technology entrepreneur and angel investor.
Hundreds of employees at Upstream,  a mobile technology firm Vermis co-founded, have been working remotely for three weeks, communicating via Slack the business-to-business messaging service, and video conferencing services like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
But Veris is even more heartened by how quickly his less-tech savvy clients have adapted to doing business under lockdown.
"A very large chunk of the marketplace is now being educated by the crisis," he told Al Jazeera. 

How Greece flattened the Coronavirus curve


This article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece - When Greece cancelled carnival celebrations in late February, many people thought the measure excessive. In the western city of Patra, which hosts Greece’s most flamboyant carnival parade, thousands defied the ban and took to the streets.


“The government has ordered an end to all municipal activities… but this is a private enterprise. No one can shut it down,” said a jubilant reporter for the local Ionian TV in front of a crew dressed up as 17th century French courtiers. “They’re gathering here on St. George’s square, where the [Greek] revolution began in 1821, and that’s symbolic,” he said.


Greeks quickly put their revolutionary spirit aside, however, and largely heeded government advice to remain indoors. The result has been a remarkably low number of deaths – 81 by Tuesday, compared to more than 17,000 in neighbouring Italy. Adjusted for population, that’s a fatality rate almost 40 times lower.


Compared to other European Union members, too, Greece has fared better. Its fatalities are far lower than Belgium’s (2,035) or the Netherlands’ (1,867), which have similar populations but much higher GDP.





“State sensitivity, co-ordination, resolve, swiftness, seem not to be matters of economic magnitude,” Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently told a pared down session of parliament.


“Our schools closed before we had the first fatality. Most countries followed a week or two later, after they had mourned the loss of dozens,” he said.


Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Greece puts up a wall as Turkey besieges Europe with refugees

This article was published by The Critic

Moria refugee camp is the largest in Greece. Its current population of about 20,000 stretches well beyond the organised camp into surrounding olive groves.

LESVOS, Greece – It is midnight on a solitary beach on the north shores of the island of Lesvos. A boatload of 42 asylum-seekers is bedding down on the grass in front of a seaside chapel to St. Demetrios. The rubber dinghy they arrived in from Turkey bobs in the shallows just yards away.

“Turkey told people ‘If you want to go, you can go to Europe’,” said Ayman Ahmadi, a Syrian who worked 16-hour days in a shoe factory for two years to pay for his crossing. “Before we saw that whoever wanted to go to Europe, the police would catch these people.”

Most of the group – who include 12 small children – are from Afghanistan, though there are also some from Syria, Uganda and Guinea. It was raining when they arrived just before dusk, and their clothes are soaked. The night air is damp and cold, but there is nowhere else to take them.

Islanders on Lesvos blockade camp and port as refugee arrivals spike

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
 
A group of Afghan children plays on the north shores of Lesvos, shortly after they and their parents arrived in a rubber dinghy on March 1.


LESVOS, Greece - Refugees arriving on the island of Lesvos on Sunday told stories suggesting that the Turkish government had co-opted smugglers in its policy of ushering asylum-seekers west.

A group of 28 Syrians and people of several African nationalities sat on the beach near the Mytilene airport under the watchful eye of police, waiting to be taken for registration.

“I was in church with my wife, and the smugglers came to church and told us that if we wanted to go to Greece we could get on a boat for free. And we went with him to the beach and got on the boat,” a Congolese man told Al Jazeera without stating his name.

A man from Sierra Leone happened to be walking past the beach at the time. “I asked if I could go and they said ‘you can go’. I didn’t have to pay anything,” he said.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Greece on the defensive as Turkey opens border to refugees

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
An Afghan family cooks lunch in Moria camp, Lesvos.

Lesvos, Greece - Greece is bracing itself for what could turn into a flood of refugees and migrants after the Turkish government ordered its coastguard and border police not to prevent people from crossing into Europe.
"No illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted on Friday after Greek police fired tear gas at about 300 refugees trying to cross the land border at the Evros river.
On Saturday, a Greek government spokesperson claimed to have "averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our borders."
Later on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 18,000 refugees and migrants had gathered on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Meanwhile, tensions are exploding at the Greek border, with riot police firing tear gas at groups of arriving refugees, some of whom are allegedly throwing stones and pieces of flaming wood in protest.
Greece's land border with Turkey is relatively strong. It is160km (99 miles) long and contains natural defences such as the Evros river and its marshy delta. Greece reinforced it with extra patrols and thermal cameras in recent months.
The maritime border is another story. Hundreds of kilometres long, it is patrolled by about 40 Greek coastal patrol vessels and boats, aided by a European Border and Coast Guard force.
Greece is in the process of building another 19 vessels but on Friday asked the European Union to provide more assistance.
It is physically difficult to intercept refugees at sea and Greece's archipelago presents them with thousands of islands to alight upon.
Since 2015, when a million refugees crossed the Aegean into Europe, Greece has found that the only real defence is diplomacy - persuading Turkey to put its coastguard vessels back into action to pick up refugees before they reach the Greek-Turkish territorial waterline.
Turkey opened the borders after dozens of its soldiers were killed in an air raid in Idlib, Syria, and has since complained that it lacks international support for its military campaign and that it hosts the world's largest number of refugees.
Mitsotakis on Friday said: "Greece does not bear any responsibility for the tragic events in Syria and will not suffer the consequences of decisions taken by others," he wrote - a reference to Turkey's military support for groups opposed to the Syrian government.
Greece also has expectations of Europe. With 1 percent of Europe's GDP and 2 percent of its population, it finds itself processing almost 11 percent of EU asylum applications - a result of rules requiring asylum seekers to apply in the country they arrived in. So far, the EU has been unable to negotiate a permanent burden-sharing mechanism.
Some Greek officials also see the EU's deeper involvement in the Middle East as a prerequisite to resolving its refugee woes.
"Europe has to decide what to do, because no matter how many people you resettle or save at sea, more people will come," a senior security official in the Greek government told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity.
"Europe has to make serious decisions but right now its politicians seem to have a [particular] narrative that prevents them from doing so, while societies are suffering from information overload and an economic crisis."
Arrivals on the islands were not unusual on Friday - 151 asylum-seekers on five boats. But that could change very quickly.
Mercantile Marine Minister Ioannis Plakiotakis was on Lesbos in a largely symbolic visit to demonstrate solidarity with the east Aegean.
"We are here with the chief of the coastguard to emphasise our resolve to protect our maritime borders to the highest degree possible," he told Al Jazeera.

Right-wing government's refugee policy

The eight-month-old right-wing New Democracy government has been frustrated in implementing its harder refugee policy.
On January 1, it started implementing a stricter asylum law that aims to speed up processing and increase returns to Turkey but the results have not been spectacular. Returns so far are in the dozens per month.
The government has also failed to persuade the five islands with reception centres - Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos - to allow it to build detention centres that will replace current open camps, increasing total capacity on the islands.
Despite the fact that camps on the five islands are currently overflowing with 42,000 asylum-seekers, islanders say that increasing official capacity will lift numbers even further.
In recent days, riot police ferried in from Athens clashed with locals on Lesbos and Chios as construction companies attempted to bring in earth-moving machinery to start work on the new camps.
"The refugee issue is of national importance," said Plakiotakis. "Everyone must help above and beyond political interests and affiliations.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

EU’s last nickel smelter heads for the gallows, or an afterlife


This article was published by Al Jazeera International

A worker injects pure oxygen into furnace number one to coax out molten nickel-iron at a temperature of 1,300 degrees Celsius

LARYMNA, Greece - The final countdown has begun for Larco, the European Union’s only remaining nickel smelter, and its 1,260 workers and their families. The Greek state can no longer afford to finance it and has given it a final dowry of 35mn euros and a year to find an investor.

“If during this period three quarters of Larco’s assets haven’t been sold, the company must file for bankruptcy,” finance minister Christos Staikouras told parliament.

Larco sits at the centre of a $170mn economy. In addition to its miners, smelters and office workers, more than 22,000 suppliers and contractors are dependent on it, so shuttering it would entail a high political cost.

But the eight month-old New Democracy government has its sights fixed on a new age of smaller government, lower taxes, renewable energy and competitive, high-tech services, and appears impatient to close the book on an attempt at heavy industry that began in the 1950s and was largely bankrupt thirty years later.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Is the US heading to the front lines of European defence?


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
A Greek Chinook helicopter ferries journalists to joint US-Greek wargames on February 19


In contrast to its ongoing redeployment of forces in the Middle East, the US appears to be surging to the fore of European defence.



The US-led annual Defender Europe exercise will involve 20,000 US troops - more than those of all its NATO allies put together, and more than at any time in the past quarter-century.



“The overarching goal of the event is to demonstrate the ability of the US to lift and shift a division-size force over long distances,” said Tod D. Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe earlier this month. “The planning in itself is deterrence,” he said.


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Greece says it’s speeding up asylum cases and returns


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece says it has begun to enforce fast track procedures for new asylum-applicants and is stepping up deportations to Turkey, but aid organisations voice concerns that applicants’ rights are being  trampled upon.

Greece deported 53 asylum-seekers in January, police tell Al Jazeera, a significant increase on last year’s monthly average of 16, but only slightly higher than the monthly average of 45 since the EU-Turkey Statement went into effect in April 2016. Turkey and the European Union are obliged to readmit irregular migrants from each other under that agreement.

“The rules have changed. We’re no longer open to people who don’t have a refugee profile,” said migration minister Notis Mitarakis on Friday as he headed for the island of Chios, his constituency and one of five eastern Aegean islands bearing the brunt of new arrivals.

“We’re now taking at least first instance [asylum] decisions within four weeks,” he said.

En route to Berlin, Haftar holds talks with top Greek officials

This article was published by Al Jazeera International


ATHENS, Greece- Smarting from its exclusion in Libyan peace talks, Greece scored a diplomatic win on Friday when Libyan warlord Halifa Haftar paid an unexpected visit to Athens, on his way to the UN-sponsored talks in Berlin.



Greece asked to be included in the Berlin Process, as the talks are called, saying it has vital interests at stake.



The Council of Ministers in Tripoli signed a maritime jurisdiction agreement with Turkey last year that claims waters Greece also sees as part of its own jurisdiction.



Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), based in Benghazi, is at war with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al Sarraj, based in Tripoli.



Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias said Haftar agreed that a ceasefire agreement had to recognise “the invalidity of the illegal memoranda between Turkey and the Sarraj government.” The government says Haftar has committed to negotiating a new maritime deal with Greece.


Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Demographic decline in Greece

In a new law voted yesterday, Greece will pay 2000 euros to the parents of every newborn to reverse depopulation, an economic and national security issue. In 2008-18, births declined from 118,302 to 86,440. Deaths increased from 107,979 to 120,297. The pop deficit last year was 33,857.


Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Why Greece is key to US plans to sell more natural gas to Europe

An abridged version of this article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece - Two geostrategic energy alliances are crossing swords over southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Between them, they plan billions of dollars’ worth of competing infrastructure projects. The ones that succeed will create the regional energy map of the future, and 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in deciding their fate.

On one end of the piste stands the Russian-Turkish energy alliance, which seeks to boost Russia’s natural gas exports through new pipelines, and Turkey’s status as an energy transit hub to Europe. On the other end stands the rapidly advancing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry and its new champions, the Unites States, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.

Both alliances are vying to sell natural gas to the European market, which has undertaken the world’s most ambitious decarbonisation programme. Over the next decade, Europe is forecast to bridge its transition from coal to renewable energy by importing increasing amounts of natural gas.

Greece, Israel, Cyprus, move forward to build East Med pipeline


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - The governments of Greece, Israel and Cyprus on Thursday signed an agreement to build a pipeline that could supply Europe with four percent of its annual gas needs by the middle of the decade.

“Today we did not simply sign a beneficial agreement. We sealed our resolve for a strategic connection between our countries in a region that now more than ever needs growth and security,” said Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The agreement is a statement of political will, but it is now up to the construction consortium, led by the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA) and Italy’s Edison, to find the roughly 6bn euros ($6.7bn) the pipeline is estimated to cost.

Greek tour of Arab capitals to shore up support in territorial standoff with Turkey


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias embarked on a tour of Arab capitals on Tuesday to shore up Muslim support for Greece in its latest diplomatic standoff with Turkey over maritime borders.

The dispute was sparked by Turkey’s signature on November 27 of two maritime jurisdiction memoranda with the Government of National Accord in Libya. They award Turkey and Libya an area Greece claims as part of its islands’ maritime territory.

Dendias began his tour in Riyadh on Tuesday, where he met with Saudi king Mohammed bin Salman. “We have a common understanding that these memoranda create a problem in the broader region,” said Dendias. “We shall continue to monitor the situation and be in touch to co-ordinate initiatives.”