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.