Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
‘A wall’, or ‘The collapse of the law’
The Greek government has boasted that it prevented ‘260,000 migrants’ from entering the country in 2022.
The problem is:
1) This is illegal
2) It is in fact an attack on the entire international legal system
3) It is the removal of fundamental human rights from every single person on Earth
4) It is deeply immoral
5) It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government’s claim that its Turkish counterpart is ‘weaponising migration’ is a lie
The illegality of a wall, and the attack on international law
On Saturday 20 January, Greece’s Civil Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos took ambassadors from EU member states, as well as Switzerland and the UK, to the Evros region, where Greece borders Türkiye.
While there, he told the ‘guests’ that his government plans to almost double the length of the five metre high wall on the countries’ shared border, to 72.5km.
In itself, there is no law against building such a wall. We might of course note that it betrays a mediaeval siege mentality, as well as a lack of desire to perform any actual politics – building better relations, for example – and as such it is an enormous failure in the government’s duties.
But a wall on the border to ‘defend’ one’s territory from an invading nation is not, in fact, illegal, even though it displays an abject failure to innovate or behave like a capable or even responsible political unit.
But he then, in direct connection with (re- the government has announced this plan on three previous occasions) stating this, said:
‘(We) have prevented more than 260,000 migrants from illegally entering Greece in 2022… around 400 people (now) try to enter each day.’
The problem is, it is illegal to prevent people entering your country in order to apply for asylum. And that is precisely what Theodorikakos was talking about.
We have noted several times that it is the right of every person on Earth to travel to seek safe places to live, learn and work. It is the legal duty of every country to give people the opportunity to apply for asylum. Neither of these legal rights and duties is even remotely compatible with building a wall to prevent people entering your country.
In case anybody might have misunderstood, and thought that perhaps the wall was intended to ‘protect’ Greece from attack by the Turkish armed forces, Theodorikakos added:
‘The task of protecting the border needs the support ... of European public opinion, the European Union itself and its constituent members individually.’
That is, for Theodorikakos and his government, there is no longer even any pretence that the wall is necessary to protect Greece against invasion by Türkiye, but to protect EU borders from people seeking safe places to live, learn and work: an illegal aim.
Nor, should any further evidence be needed, was there any shadow of pretence from the gathered ambassadors regarding what the Greek minister was talking about.
Kyriakos Kenevesos, the ambassador from Cyprus, a country which has itself consistently called for the EU to allow it to break international and EU law by preventing people from entering to apply for asylum, said:
‘Countries which have no external EU borders must show understanding to those who do.’
While Matthew Lodge, ambassador from the UK, whose government is currently seeking to break international law by forcing all new arrivals to Rwanda, said:
‘Our priority is to protect the human life and dignity endangered by the criminal trafficking networks ... even though we are no longer an EU member, we are closely cooperating.’
(at this point we must repeat: if anyone’s priority is to protect the lives of people travelling to seek safety, and for that matter if their priority is to keep people out of the hand of those currently selling places on boats or through border ‘protection’ – these people are not ‘traffickers’, as Lodge and those like him know only too well, they must concentrate on making it safer and easier for anyone wishing to apply for asylum to do so: putting up walls and closing safe sea routes poses greater, not less, risk to people’s lives.
The simplest possible solution is for all governments to make safe transport on reliable routes available either very cheaply, or for free. No-one pays huge sums of money to risk their lives if there is an alternative. Until then, comments like those of Mr Lodge are worth precisely zero, and it would be better if he chose not to waste our time with them).
We must be as clear as possible here.
This is not the Greek government asking for laws to be changed, or applying through diplomatic channels to have that happen.
It is the Greek government announcing that it is already breaking those laws, and will step up its efforts to do so even more, and receiving at least verbal support for this from fellow EU member states, and those outside the bloc.
And as we have previously pointed out, the international legal system, because it has been very roughly tacked onto the top of a political structure in which the nation state has for around 350 years been paramount, exists extraordinarily precariously.
Every country within the system is well aware that it exists solely because each state abides by the laws: as soon as one nation refuses to do so, others follow suit.
What this means is that the Greek government is not just breaking international law – though it is doing precisely that – but also attacking the entire structure and existence of international law.
Some people, including, disappointingly, some who declare themselves to be part of the international Left, may ask why this matters, when the system so clearly fails people all over the world so consistently.
It’s not an entirely unreasonable question, but the answer is simple: the law, as it stands, is good. It is where it has been broken (the invasion of Iraq by the US; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Assad’s wholescale massacre of Syrian civilians) that the gravest and most unacceptable results have come about.
It does not go far enough (the US invasion of Afghanistan; Russia’s assistance of Assad in his mass murder) in preventing injustice, and is almost never enforced (not only are suspected war criminals seldom held accountable for their behaviour, but the delivery of large sections of universal human rights, such as the right to food, shelter and clothing, have simply never been attempted), but these flaws are not proof that the law is bad, but that it is too often, too easily, overlooked and broken. We must not stand by and applaud as those whose worst excesses are supposed to be controlled by the law break it without a second thought.
And mention of rights is also relevant here.
Because it is the right of every person to travel, and to seek safety from persecution and violence.
This right is ours by birth, because we exist and are human beings. It does not exist at the whim of governments, and nor is it theirs to deny us (in this context it is vital to mention the EU-Turkey statement, which specifically demands the Turkish government – to which we will come in a moment – denies people this right).
In fact, any attempt to do so, including this attempt by the Greek government, is to strip not just people who currently might wish to enter Greece of their rights, but to strip all of us of them: they cease to be human rights an become instead something the government simply chooses whether or not to grant.
That is, to summarise the legal element of Theodorikakos’ position, the Greek government is not only breaking the law – something for which any of us as citizens would lose our freedom (in some cases our lives) – but is attacking the entire existence of laws which it and others must follow, stripping us all of our protections against attack, and of the rights which our ours by birth.
It cannot stand, and far less can the European Union, a political bloc which demands the rest of the world regards and praises it as a protector and promoter of human rights, support it in this disgrace.
In defence of morality – the basis of every right we hold
We must not, either, pass without mentioning the fundamental immorality of the Greek government – and based on current evidence, the EU’s – position and policy.
It has become unfashionable to speak of morals and responsibility in political and governmental terms, and we should perhaps mention that the only people to benefit from this – you do not, your friends, families, colleagues and almost anyone you have ever seen in person, let alone anyone you have ever met, does, do and shall not – are governments themselves, who are freed from obligation and responsibility. For this reason alone, we should never shy away from talking about morality and responsibility.
But that is of course not the sole reason.
Because for all our squeamishness – and it genuinely is unnerving just how much of the narrative of the Right: that we should not care, we should not consider others, that the world just ‘isn’t like that’ and we must be ‘realistic’ and ‘tough’, comes from nothing more than fear, including wild oversensitivity to whether other people might ‘judge’ them – morality and responsibility, to one another, and from governments to us, underlies literally every law which protects us, our lives, our health and our ability to participate in society.
The Greek government has demonstrated how much it ‘cares’ about the law: it has broken the law by spying on its own members and ordinary Greek citizens. It broke its own lockdown laws, imposed on us all to avoid the spread of a potentially fatal virus. If we do not speak of morality and responsibility, we have nothing.
And that morality does underpin all of international – and for that matter national – law.
Those who disregard that law are those like Assad, who massacre their ‘own’ civilian populations, and for that matter Putin and successive US presidents who, in Putin’s case, helped Assad massacre Syrian men, women and children in their thousands, sent mercenaries to massacre Libyan people, and is as we type approaching the second year of his military occupation of Ukraine, and in the US governments’ case, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two decades alone, alongside hundreds of ‘raids’ on other locations.
And it is that morality which underpins international refugee law. It is the right of everyone to travel and to enter any country on Earth in order to find safe places to live, learn and work. Because the alternative is innocent civilians being jailed, tortured, and in many cases killed.
That is, the reason it is important that the Greek government is promoting its own illegal behaviour is less that it is illegal – though it should face punishment for breaking the law – than that it is profoundly immoral. It simply is inhuman to force other people to their deaths, and this is precisely what the Greek government is doing: at best, it is saying people must be left to die: that it will not offer them any help to avoid that.
At worst, and what it is in fact doing, it is beating, robbing, abusing and in some cases killing people to prevent them entering Greece and living, learning and working in relative safety.
In reality, it is largely impossible to talk about civilisation without considering morality: people’s rights to life, to safety, to a certain standard of living, and about who is responsible for ensuring those are delivered. By denying those to grandparents, children, innocent people seeking decent places to be safe, Greece and the EU are effectively stating that they are simply not civilised.
It is perhaps too late now to talk about new year’s resolutions, but we really should not need a ‘special occasion’ to ensure that the Greek government and EU stop murdering people. It is their responsibility to stop doing so. If they continue to refuse to, it is our responsibility to make them, and to remove them from power.
Türkiye and 'weaponisation': Greece and the EU’s falsehood
There is a final point we must note here.
As we have previously pointed out (here; here; here; here; and here), the current Greek government has worked since Spring to build on its long-made claims that not only are the people arriving at the Greek borders ‘illegal’ (they are not) and ‘not refugees’ (the government cannot possibly know, as it is denying them their right to apply for asylum), but that they do not even wish to leave Türkiye, and are in fact being forced to by the latter state’s government, which is attempting to ‘weaponise refugees’ – destabilising Greece and the EU by sending people to apply for asylum.
We must note at this point that Nea Dimokratia, the current party of government in Greece, is not the first political party to make this claim, or at least to pretend such a thing was possible.
When it was in power in Greece (2015-2019), the Left-wing SYRIZA party regularly claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was about to ‘open the floodgates’ and ‘send millions of refugees to Greece’.
And yet, it never happened.
The main reason for this is that, as we have pointed out on a number of occasions, we are talking about people: men, women and children. Erdogan does not have ‘control’ of ‘a floodgate’.
His government certainly has worked to prevent people travelling to Greece, in direct defiance of international law, and at the direct demand of an EU which simultaneously pretends to stand for human rights and the law (in 2022 alone, the Turkish Coastguard illegally prevented 49,521 people from reaching Greece by sea: the Greek government registered just 10,661 people as having arrived in Greece by sea in the same period).
This does, perhaps, indicate that Erdogan could make some difference to the number of people reaching Greece from Türkiye by withdrawing the country’s border guard and Coastguard from ‘active operations’ preventing people’s arrival.
But the majority – the overwhelming majority – of people who attempt to leave Türkiye for Greece are doing so entirely because that is what they wish to do. It is their initiative (just as it is their right) to do so.
The very idea of a ‘floodgate’ ‘controlled’ by Erdogan is not only the playing out of Greek paranoia about its neighbour (and for the sake of balance we really should note that Erdogan is not a ‘good neighbour’) but also a betrayal of the Greek governments’ failure and/or refusal to regard these men, women and children as people, making decisions of their own accord: some decisions are forced, for certain, but none of these people can be ‘operated’ as autonoma controlled by Erdogan and his government.
Nor would such a policy – of attempting to use people to destabilise Greece or the EU – actually work.
Despite Nea Dimokratia’s efforts since it was in opposition in the middle of the last decade (as well as in its last period in government at the decade’s start) to convince Greek people that refugees endanger their lifestyles, livelihoods and lives, the simple fact is that people granted asylum become school children, students, workers, singers, artists, sports stars: they contribute far more, financially as well as in terms of culture and new ideas, to their new communities than they ever ‘take out’.
Sending such people to Greece – even were such a thing actually possible – would be of direct benefit to Greece, and the wider EU. If ‘Türkiye’ were to ‘weaponise refugees’ we should thank it, and welcome the people ‘it’ sends. They will make us all better off.
And even if none of this were true – even if Erdogan could ‘force people’ into Greece and the wider EU (which he cannot) and even if welcoming refugees were not of direct benefit to everyone in Greece and the wider EU (and it is) – the numbers simply make such a ‘policy’ impossible.
Because there are now 3,513,776 Syrian people under protection in Syria (despite the Greek government’s claims that Türkiye is a ‘safe state – in any case a concept that does not exist in refugee law unless one accepts an asylum application and pays it proper attention – it is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention: its government only offers temporary protection to people from Syria, and may withdraw that at any moment. It offers zero protection to others, including Afghans and Somalian people), along with around one million Iraqi and Afghan people.
At the start of 2022, this was 3,535,898 Syrian people and perhaps 1.25m Iraqi, Afghan and other people.
The EU is the wealthiest political bloc ever to have existed. Its population is 446,800,000 people.
This means that even if every single person seeking safety were for some reason to leave Türkiye, the EU’s population would increase by just one per cent. There are more than 800 cities of over 50,000 people in the bloc, while more than 100 of those have more than 300,000 residents (15 have more than one million inhabitants each).
If people were to move only to these locations, the increase in population of each city would be tiny, effectively unnoticeable on a day-to-day basis, and certainly achievable by the wealthiest political bloc in human history. And those cities would then benefit further from those people’s presence.
The very idea of ‘weaponising refugees’ is not only morally deplorable on the part of those who claim it is a reality (because it strips people who need to travel of their individual capacity to decide and act for themselves, and is a transparent attack on all of our human right to travel to escape persecution), but also simply impossible.
And finally, the maths involved in this case makes this plainly and simply an absolutely false claim.
It may be possible that Theodorikakos is incapable of performing basic mathematical calculations (though someone in his team must be able to), so we should not be too certain that he and his government are lying in this particular claim of ‘weaponisation’.
But if he does genuinely believe this to have happened this (or any other) year, he is simply wrong.
Because even if his own claim that 260,000 people were ‘forced from Türkiye’ and stopped on the Greek border is correct (and he has offered precisely zero evidence for this) and his boast is that he and his government genuinely carried out 260,000 criminal acts on their border in 2022, this would mean that the Turkish government had sent a maximum of 5.7 per cent (based on 4,513,776 men, women and children in Türkiye on 31 December 2022), and a minimum of 5.4 per cent (based on the number on 1 January 2022) of people seeking protection in Türkiye to the EU to ‘destabilise’ the bloc.
Why would Erdogan, or indeed anyone, who both wanted and (according to those who lie about ‘weaponisation’) had the capacity to ‘destabilise’ the EU with refugees, choose to send only one in every 17 or 18 people ‘available’ to ‘achieve’ this?
First, because he cannot ‘destabilise the EU with refugees’: refugees pose zero threat to the European Union, and will in fact benefit it, and he does not control what those people do, or where they go. They are human beings, with free will.
Second, because he is in fact making no attempt to do so, perhaps for both of those reasons: the idea’s absolute implausibility and its utter certainty to fail to ‘destabilise’ anyone or anything.
The Greek government is lying about ‘destabilisation’ and ‘weaponisation’ to attempt to excuse its own decision to strip people of their human rights, and leave them instead to die – in some cases actively killing them itself. The EU, and the UK, now a rogue state run by a cadre of Right-wing criminals, is backing it in that
It is not acceptable, from either the Greek government or its backers, including the European Union, and the parading of an illegal wall to carry out further barbarism is simply sickening.
We must demand both the government and its multinational, extremely wealthy, backers cease this illegal and immoral activity.
We cannot stand for human rights, international law and human decency while supporting or even turning a blind eye to people breaking the law by leaving and/or causing our fellow men, women and children to die.