On the evening of 3 August 2021, the career of Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis reached a clear crossroads. From here, he must decide what it is he actually wants to do, and based on his decision either immediately resign his position, or entirely change his attitude and approach to the job he holds, and is very well paid to perform.
Greece is in the middle of one of the most severe heatwaves of its history. Temperatures which have hit 43°C in the last few days have, in common with parts of Spain, Italy and Turkey, seen enormous fires break out in parts of the country’s South.
Many people reading this may have seen footage from Varibobi, on the outskirts of Athens, from which people have had to flee their homes to escape the enormous inferno which was advancing on, and is now consuming buildings within, the northern suburb and its neighbouring areas.
We shouldn’t hide from the facts here: these fires have been caused by astonishingly high temperatures, which in turn have been caused by human activity over the past 250-or-so years.
We should also note that the exact policies and ideals for which Greece’s current government, Nea Dimokratia, stands, are the exact policies and ideals which have led us to this moment, in which we stand on the edge of global human catastrophe.
But Koraki is not a political party. We stand to gain nothing by attacking anyone over this disaster, and it would also be unreasonable not to note that Nea Dimokratia itself has been only one minor – and quite late-arriving – player in the story of global climate chaos, and its current members have seldom even been in positions of power even here in Greece. In any case, the correct response to a disaster is to try to help those affected, rather than using it as an opportunity to attack a person or group with which one disagrees.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that yesterday (3 August 2021) evening, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis chose to respond to a question from European Parliamentarian Tineke Strik with exactly such an attack.
Ms Strik, whose major areas of policy focus include migration policy within the EU, responded to a tweet from human rights activist Uli V. Sanden who early in the evening had expressed concern about the fate of men, women and children locked in Amygdaleza pre-deportation detention centre. Ms V. Sanden wrote: ‘Information is sought on the fate of the immigrants imprisoned in the concentration camp in Amygdazela…’
Ms. Strik commented: ‘I call upon the Greek government not to take any risk and to immediately evacuate the migrants detained in #Amygdaleza, very close to the fire, now.’
Now, it’s probably worth noting here that Amygdaleza is not a refugee camp, which men, women and children might be allowed to leave of their own accord, but a ‘pre-removal centre’ for people who have committed no crime, but are nevertheless locked up until they are deported from Greece.
Amygdazela detention centre, and - circled in red – Varibobi, Northern Athens
The 922-person capacity detention centre was not visited by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its last (13-17 March 2020) inspection of Greek detention facilities for people denied or awaiting decisions on asylum.
But our readers may find it useful to note that in the Committee’s report on this visit, it said: ‘the conditions of detention in which migrants are held could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.
‘Migrants continue to be held in detention centres composed of large barred cells crammed with beds, with poor lighting and ventilation, dilapidated and broken toilets and washrooms, insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials, inadequate food and no access to outdoor daily exercise.
‘In addition, migrants were not provided with clear information about their situation.
‘… families with children, unaccompanied and separated children and other vulnerable persons are being detained in appalling conditions with no appropriate support.’
Given this description – once again, made as recently as March 2020 – and the fact that Amygdaleza is so close to an approaching inferno, it may be expected that a Member of the European Parliament with a migration portfolio should express concern and attempt to ensure the safety of these men, women and children was one of the Greek government’s priorities.
But Notis Mitarachis, Greece’s Migration Minister, decided otherwise.
He took to Twitter to respond: ‘Of course we have a plan. Any interest about the local residents by the way, who are suffering from the fire? Have you asked about them?’
Now, this is a remarkable response in a number of ways.
Firstly, and by no means least, because ‘Of course we have a plan.’ Is a very long way from ‘we have taken action and all the men, women and children we have locked up are now safe and well.’
Secondly because Mitarachis’ tweet is the kind of blindly aggressive response one may expect from a teenager in the depths of their belief that their parents hate them and wish to ruin their lives, or a toddler, who may well believe the same thing, rather than an elected minister of state of a country in the developed world, in the 21st century. One may expect to reprimand a toddler or a teen for such a response. What can one do when this is a government minister?
But there are some more important issues to consider.
Because it is far from clear why Mr Mitarachis chose to attack a woman who was expressing concern for the safety of men, women and children locked in a detention centre which stands in the path of an advancing inferno.
We should certainly not suggest that it is because in her role as EU Parliamentarian, her sole previous connection to Mr Mitarachis was when she headed a team which damned the Greek government by concluding in July this year that pushbacks of men, women and children from Greece were certainly taking place in the Argean Sea, and the only point of debate was whether Frontex had been directly involved in any of them.
And we might note that throughout 3 August, as the fire advanced on northern Athens, every single Greek broadcaster led its reports with the statement that ‘the Greek government has issued warnings via text message to every resident’, meaning that not only is Ms Strik entitled to ask about the men, women and children who fall under her portfolio as a politician, but also that she and everyone else were, by the evening of 3 August, well aware that the ‘local residents’ were safe at least from burning to death: something that was far from clear in the case of those locked in Amygdaleza.
It could of course be that Mr Mitarachis might feel as if he were being ‘attacked’ by Ms Strik’s concern for the safety of these men, women and children. But the problem with that is that their safety is his sole responsibility in this matter. And it is quite a damning review of a minister’s performance if he has done his job so poorly that there can be serious and well-founded concern that the people left in despicable conditions in his prison camps might not be rescued from an enormous fire.
We should also note that Ms Strik – and presumably also Mr Mitarachis – was perfectly well aware that while being forced from one’s home by a fire is a terrible experience, the ‘local residents’ the minister named could at least get in their cars, on their bikes, onto a bus or another form of transport, or indeed walk to safety.
That is of course absolutely not true of the people whom Mr Mitarachis has locked up: they rely on him, in a way that the ‘local residents’ do not rely on any member of the Greek government: literally, for their transportation to safety.
But by far the most important point here – for Mr Mitarachis at least as much as for the people from whose taxes he is taking a wage – is what his response shows.
Because Ms Strik’s concern was what one might expect from a professional in the role she is in: the safety and wellbeing of ‘migrant’ men, women and children locked in a detention centre threatened by fire.
And the fact is that should also have been Mr Mitarachis’ concern. Of course he is entitled to ‘care’ about Greek people and their safety, but his sole job in response to this blaze was to ensure the safety of those men, women and children he had locked up. Instead, he revealed that his personal priority was the Greek residents of northern Athens. For whom he has no professional responsibility whatsoever.
What Mr Mitarachis revealed on 3 August is that he has no interest in his job. He had a clear responsibility, which fell entirely on his shoulders, but instead of focussing on that he allowed his dislike of being questioned, and his clear desire to be doing someone else’s job distract him.
Given his record so far: of 15,402 people – some 74.4 per cent of all people attempting to reach Greece and apply for asylum – illegally pushed back from the Aegean islands under his direction since 1 March 2020; of men, women and children being brutally beaten by Greek police at the Evros border; of men, women and children being fired on by armed police and Greek soldiers at the same border, having committed absolutely no crime; and of course the fact that the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture says that people detained under his watch are subject to ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, it may come as no surprise to see Mr Mitarachis finally reveal that he does not care about his job, and wishes to do another.
And there is no problem with that. Many people have no interest in, or are incapable of performing, the tasks their job requires from them. Perhaps there is a career in which Mr Mitarachis would find the enjoyment and fulfilment he lacks as Greece’s Minister for Migration.
But if that is the case, he must recognise that his is a vitally important role, on which lives – as well as fundamental human rights across the world – depend.
If he is neither capable nor interested in performing his tasks as Greece’s Minister of Migration, he must immediately resign, allowing someone else who is more interested and more capable to actually earn the vast sums of Greek taxpayers’ money which have so far been taken by Mr Mitarachis despite his dislike of, ill-suitedness for and lack of ability to do, his job.
If that is how you feel, Mr Mitarachis, we must implore you: resign. Not tomorrow. Not in a few hours. Today. Now.
You will be happier, everyone who has had to work under you and under the diktats you have sent out from your office will be happier, and the innocent men, women and children your misguided efforts have – inadvertently, we are sure – persecuted and harmed will certainly be happier.
It is not acceptable that you should continue to endanger and ruin so many people’s lives when it is clear you wish to be doing something else. The only option available to you is to resign and take another job, ‘helping Greek people’ as seems to be your sole desire. Do not wait. Do it now.
Of course, it could be that in fact, Mr Mitarachis, you do believe in, do want to do and are capable of doing your actual job, as Minister of Migration. Perhaps the last two years, in which it seemed and still seems like you do not, and are not, are simply the result of a series of errors you have made, each one compounding the pervious one and leading you ever further down a deep tunnel from which it seemed impossible to find a way out.
In that case, Mr Mitarachis, please step back, rethink your position and begin to do the job someone clearly thought you were capable of doing.
Because let’s be honest, the last two years have been a disaster. For you, for Greece, for thousands of innocent men, women and children, and in fact for the entire concept of fundamental human rights.
So, Mr Mitarachis, your tweet was an astonishing embarrassment. But something good can still come of it: you can now choose to commit to doing your job properly, taking responsibility for treating people with the grace, kindness and decency they deserve, or you can accept that you have no interest in it, and resign, with immediate effect.
Not everybody reaches such a clear crossroads, or gets such an opportunity. Do not waste it.