The other Greek crisis

November 20, 2011

Greek-Turkish border. Source: Al Jazeera

The most important statistic that came out of Greece this week had nothing to do with the economy.

The EU said that 300 migrants are illegally crossing the border from Turkey every single day.

Frontex, the EU Border Control agency which has monitors on the Greek-Turkish border, said that the total number for the month of October was 9,600, representing “an absolute monthly record”.

It describes the situation as “dramatic”.

In other words, the Greek economic crisis appears to be having no impact whatsoever on the numbers of people trying to enter the country

Afghans are still the biggest group, but there have been significant increases in the numbers from Pakistan, Algeria and Morocco.

Of course, the vast majority of these people don’t want to stay in Greece.

They plan to move on to more prosperous parts of Europe, travelling via Italy or the Balkan countries.

But many migrants discover it is not so easy to do this, or that they end up being repatriated to Greece from other European countries.

Ill-equipped for challenge

Greece is ill-equipped to deal with this challenge.

Even before the economic crisis, successive Greek governments had a lamentable record in treating illegal immigrants humanely and efficiently.

This week, a senior Frontex official told a Greek newspaper that most of the 26 countries that contribute to the force on the Greek-Turkish border are increasingly reluctant to continue, mainly because of Greece’s failure to create new reception centres for migrants.

The official described conditions in existing reception centres as “unacceptable”.

Migrants are often kept in filthy and crowded facilities. It’s shocking that this issue has not been properly addressed over the years.

Greece argues, with some justification, that it is on the geographic frontline of a common European problem, and that wealthier countries have an obligation to help.

Human-trafficking is big business in Turkey, and the government there clearly lacks the will or ability to control it.

Meanwhile in central Athens today there are many thousands of desperate immigrants, struggling to find food and work.

Far-right extremist groups try to exploit the inevitable tensions.

As Greece’s economy continues to shrink, this is a dangerous and unpredictable situation.

Al Jazeera (

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