Friday, 8 January 2021

2020: Turkey blackmails Europe, Greece adopts a policy of deterrence, the EU remains divided, and refugees suffer

This article was published in The Critic

An Afghan boy among tents in Moria camp, Lesvos, March 2020 (John Psaropoulos)


ATHENS, Greece – This year marked a turning point in Aegean refugee flows. According to migration ministry figures, 14,430 asylum-seekers crossed from Turkey to Greece in the first eleven months of the year, compared with 65,337 for the same period last year. 


That is a scale of arrivals not seen since before a 2015 peak, when almost a million asylum-seekers entered Greece, followed by 205,000 in 2016, and many tens of thousands a year since. Spain and Italy have thus become the main refugee entry points to Europe this year. 


 “The rules have changed,” migration minister Notis Mitarakis announced in January, as the conservative New Democracy government put a concert of defensive and deterrent policies into action. “We are not open to people who do not have a refugee profile.” 

A Brief History of Moria

This article was published in The Critic.

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp (John Psaropoulos)


I watched as Moria camp was built in January of 2013. A disused military camp on a terraced hillside was girdled with four metre-high fence, and large units capable of sleeping 15 or 20 people were lifted onto the terraces by crane. Each terrace was individually fenced off, too, so that if police chose, the only outside space inmates would be able to enjoy would be a few square metres in front of their dormitory. 


Moria was then designed for 1,200 asylum-seekers. Greek authorities had been alarmed not so much by the 3,345* arrivals in the previous year, as much as the agitated state of the unregulated migrants already in the country. In the post-2008 global financial crisis, Greece went through the worst economic recession in the postwar history of the developed world. Many unrecorded migrant labourers found themselves on the street, hungry and undocumented. Fights broke out and petty crime rose. The conservative government elected in April 2012 determined that more should not come in, and those who did should be incarcerated out of sight and out of mind.