Migration In 2019: Greece Has Reached Its Tipping Point

On the 22nd November 2019, the Commissioner for the UNHCR – Filippo Grandi, urged the EU Member States for an immediate response to the migration crisis affecting Europe as a whole, though predominately Greece. Only one month later, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis proclaimed that his country had “reached its limits”. Throughout 2019, Greece has disproportionately held the highest number of migrants than any other European country – a statistic that must change in 2020.

When the EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopolos in March 2019 declared the European migrant crisis ‘over’, hopes remained that migrant levels would decrease. Whilst this may be the case relative to levels in 2015, Greece has individually witnessed a persistent level of migration each year. This has resulted in increasingly overcrowded camps migration camps, as demonstrated by the evacuation of 1000 migrants from the Greek island of Lesbos in late August this year. In a visit to the island of Lesbos, Filippo Grandi stressed, “Europe has to get its act together… to have a new system that is based on sharing, responsibility sharing”. Lesbos merely presents one of the many crowded Greek islands – riots in Samos erupted this month, which representatives from Doctors without Borders proclaimed, “a protracted state of human tragedy”. Moreover, as Greece struggles to accommodate increasing levels of migration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a country itself struggling with migration – has repeatedly threatened a new wave of mass migration to Europe, “The negative effects of this pressure on us will be an issue felt by all European countries, especially Greece”.

Since 2015, the numbers of migration to Europe have steadily declined. This has resulted in a somewhat relaxed climate in European affairs and, as a result, has resulted in the termination of EU naval rescue programs, a continued lack of response by EU member states, and the renunciation of migration as a ‘crisis’ affecting Europe. Whilst all factors have resulted in the dire situation displayed in Greece today, it is the continued lack of will to act demonstrated by EU member states that is most at risk of breaking Greece’s capacity to host migrants. As a result of the continuing strain felt by Greece, the country has enacted tougher border controls on migrants which, in addition to poor living conditions, has resulted in protests – the latter of which has involved police utilizing tear gas.

The origins of Europe’s migration crisis, or what is now termed also as a humanitarian crisis, began with an influx of migration numbers in 2014, peaking in 2015. In 2019, a total number of 68,569 migrants have arrived in Greece, whilst over 1,200 have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The year of 2019 has seen the EU Member States overwhelmingly reject plans to redistribute migrants, particularly from Greece, leaving rescue boats stranded at sea for days with hundreds of migrants.

In June 2019, Carlotta Sami – a spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency – described the Mediterranean as a “sea of blood”. This reference to the route that thousands of migrants take seeking safety in Europe contrasts strongly with the statement by the Dimitris Avramopolos that renounced migration as a ‘crisis’ affecting Europe. What is needed more than ever in the next decade, therefore, is a changing of the narrative. The move to describe the crisis as a humanitarian one is such an attempt. Dialogue, however, must remain a priority amongst all EU Member States, along with the sharing of responsibility in hosting migrants. Whilst statistics bring to light the dire situation affecting Greece, it is important to move beyond numbers and act on behalf of every individual seeking a home in Europe – this should remain a motivating point for action amongst the EU.