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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Fact Check: Mitsotakis ‘vast majority’ of new arrivals to Greece ‘economic migrants not refugees’

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the governing Nea Dimokratia party, told the Greek parliament on Friday 4 October 2019 that:

‘We should acknowledge that on the basis of real data, the problem that we are now dealing with is one of migration not so much of refugees.’

He continued: ‘The vast majority of people currently coming to Greece are economic migrants, not refugees,’ adding that: ‘In 2015 Syrians made up around 75 percent of arrivals, whereas today the percentage has dropped to 20 percent. About half of arrivals are economic migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan.'

Is the Greek PM correct? Is his statement true?


Quite apart from the fact that there nothing wrong with being a ‘migrant’, there are a number of problems – and simple mistakes/untruths – in his statement.

First of all, it is absolutely vital to note that the country a person is fleeing may be a part of the information considered when a state is processing and evaluating an asylum claim, but it can only be a part: no nation is entitled to make its decision based on that and that alone.

For this reason, Mitsotakis’ citation of the states from which people are arriving to indicate the legitimacy of their asylum claims is simply unjustifiable and indicates – at best – a lack of understanding of international refugee law.

Secondly, it is absolutely impossible that the Greek government can speak with any authority whatsoever on the actual entitlement or otherwise to asylum of the most recent arrivals to Greece, because it absolutely has not examined and processed their asylum applications.

As we know, there is currently a four year wait for the first interview of those arriving in Greece in the last six months. That is, Mitsotakis and his government are at best completely incapable of stating that these arrivals are ‘economic migrants’: they absolutely do not know.

Thirdly, in Afghanistan, which Mitsotakis cites as ‘evidence’ that ‘the majority’ of people arriving to Greece ‘are economic migrants’ rather than refugees:

  1. conflict has been ongoing for more than 40 years

  2. more than a third of the state is classified by the UN as ‘in conflict’

  3. the Taliban controls more land than at any point since 2001, and is chasing down all those who object to and/or have resisted/still resist it

We might also note that Pakistan, the other state he cites to ‘evidence’ his claim, has – in the last five years – experienced the second-highest number of terror attacks in the world. Few people believe that Pakistan national Malala Yousafzai is an ‘economic migrant’, for example.

Fourthly, Mitsotakis’ claim is not backed up by the facts.

Since 1 January this year, according to UNHCR:

38.8% of arrivals have been from Afghanistan 20.6% Syria 9.5% DRC 7.8% Iraq 6.6% Palestine

That is, even if it were legal or reasonable to decide whether someone’s asylum claim is legitimate based solely on the state from which they are from – and it is neither – 83.3 per cent of the people to have arrived in Greece this year have fled countries where the danger of death through armed conflict and/or activity is extremely high.

Of the remaining 16.7 per cent, 13.8 per cent are listed as being from ‘other states’, many of which are either at war, or have conflicts ongoing in part or parts of their countries. One example is Cameroon, where Anglophone separatists have been fighting since 2017 against French-speaking Cameroonians.

As for people from Pakistan, since 1 January 2019, they have made up a total of 0.2 per cent of new arrivals to Greece.

Kiriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s Prime Minister is incorrect to say that ‘on the basis of real data, the problem that we are now dealing with is one of migration not so much of refugees’ because:

  1. it is illegal to judge an asylum claim solely on the basis of an applicant’s home country, and

  2. Greece absolutely has not processed the claims of the most recent arrivals to the state

  3. Afghanistan – one of just two states cited by Mitsotakis – is absolutely a state which people can reasonably claim to need to escape because of conflict even if that were the sole reason people were allowed to claim asylum, which it is not

  4. the data clearly shows that at least 83.3 per cent of those arriving are doing so from states in which armed violence is widespread and ongoing

  5. Pakistan, the second state cited by Mitsotakis, has experienced the second highest number of terror attacks of the last five years

  6. the combined percentage of arrivals from Afghanistan and Pakistan since 1 January this year is 39 per cent, a fifth less than the ‘about half’ the Greek Prime Minister claims

Not only has Mitsotakis’ statement confused the term ‘refugee’ and ‘Syrian’, it has also seriously misrepresented the available data, while claiming information he and his government absolutely do not have.

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