Greece is at the hard end of another European policy problem, related to austerity, but this time to do with immigration, and it’s turning into a serious human rights and humanitarian crisis. According to Europe’s border control agency Frontex, 93% of migrants to Europe came through eastern and central Mediterranean routes in 2011.With the tightening of the patrolling of Spanish and Italian access routes, most of these arrived first in Greece, with legal rights under the European Convention of Human Rights to seek asylum status there. Greece doesn’t have the resources to provide adequate social services, and the justice system is grossly inadequate to deal with the demands put on it. This means that large numbers of people are cast adrift in Greece in a legal limbo and with no resources. They are then at the mercy not only of highly repressive policing but of the fascist organization Golden Dawn, whose growing influence is now also starting to contaminate the political discourse of other political parties. A new internet crowd-released film, Into the Fire, documents the human face on what’s going on.
This is not just a story about Greece, but about European policy more generally. Under what is known as the Dublin regulation, people can only claim asylum in the EU country in which they first arrive. It means that if anyone manages to move on to another country, their claim to asylum need not be heard in that country, but they can be summarily deported back to the country in which they first arrived. This was supposed to be a burden-sharing measure to cut out parallel asylum claims in multiple jurisdictions. But in effect, because of the way people arrive in Europe, it corrals the EU’s asylum-seekers into the southern European countries, and increasingly concentrates it in Greece. A 2011 decision by the European Court of Human Rights found that, unlike other EU member states, Greece was not able to vindicate people’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that deportations back there are not defensible. But as shown in the documentary Dublin’s Trap: another side of the Greek crisis, these rights are hard to access and the implications extend to very few people. And securing ’Fortress Europe’ is taking an even greater toll on human lives:
…at least 18,567 people have died since 1988 along the european borders. Among them 8,695 were reported to be missing in the sea. The majority of them, 13,733 people, lost their life trying to cross the Mediterranean sea and the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe. And 2011 was the worst year ever, considering that during the year at least 2,352 people have died at the gates of Europe.
There are lots of questions about other European countries’ ways of dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. Ireland’s citizenship laws were changed in 2004 to deter possible claimants; people are left for unconscionably long periods living in ‘direct provision’ accommodation; and the rate of successful application is very low indeed. But the scale of the humanitarian and human rights issues building up in Greece is something else again. And while many northern European policy-makers may well be silently grateful that the issue of rising refugee pressures (most recently from Syria) is kept out of their country, the fillip it gives to Golden Dawn, the third-largest political grouping in Greece in recent polls, should be a cause for deep alarm right across Europe.