Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
The EU must stop funding states which break international law
The headline says it all. In the light of the fact that, despite the EU voting not to fund the extension of the Greek border wall, the Greek government will use EU funding to build and operate it illegally, the EU must finally withhold absolutely all funding from states which break international and EU law. The alternative is that – whether in name or not – it will fund precisely the law-breaking it claims to oppose.
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis has appeared on Skai TV (Greece)’s Mismatched show, where he made a series of misleading claims, and inadvertently laid bare a fundamental and serious problem with EU border funding.
Skai is an unabashed fan of Mitarachis and Nea Dimokratia, and so asked no questions when Mitarachis said:
‘The Greek Police announced that in 2022 they prevented 260,000 people from entering the Evros. The fact that 1 in 100 passed and 80% less than in 2019 and 99% less than in 2015 are currently passing, shows that our country no longer has an immigration problem. Shall I just say it? On our islands we have 4,000 residents out of 45,000 in the whole country. In the structures we have 13,000 instead of the 92,000 we had in 2019. We have 33 structures instead of the 121 that existed.’
As a result, we will note: it is absolutely illegal to push people away from your country’s borders without first allowing them to declare their intent to apply for asylum. If the Greek police’s claim is true, then the Greek government committed 260,000 crimes at the Evros border in 2022.
‘Our country no longer has an immigration problem’. In fact, Greece absolutely does have an immigration problem. The problem is that absolutely everyone, including Greece’s Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis, accepts that Greece is facing a demographic crisis so severe that within the next 50 years there will be too few people working to support the country’s retirees and it is not attracting enough people to work here.
Immigration is not a problem, Nea Dimokratia’s attitude towards it is. Greece needs people. People do want to come to Greece, and they are bringing ideas and skills with the, while the EU and UN have flooded the country with cash - €3.2bn from 2015-2021 from the EU alone – to help them settle.
Instead of making the most of this potentially country-saving opportunity, Nea Dimokratia has violated international law by refusing those people entry, and cut off large sections of that vital funding supply. The party is strangling Greece and its people, because those hoping to come here are ‘the wrong colour’. As we have said before and will say again, government bigotry – Nea Dimokratia’s bigotry – is paid for by everyone in the country, and in this case by the country itself.
It is also a shame that Skai’s reverence for Mitarachis and his government prevented it asking him questions about his ‘structures’ claim.
Because at absolutely no point has Greece had ‘121 structures’ used to accommodate refugees.
In fact, in 2019, when Mitarachis claims there were 121, there were 37. If we pretend that the nine hotels in which people were accommodated in Grevena were at that point regarded as ‘separate structures’ (neither the government nor NGOs treated them as such) that number increases to 45.
It is honestly impossible to see how Mitarachis has come to his ‘121’ figure, unless one imagines he is pretending that every single building in Greece used to house refugees, however small (down to one or two people), is somehow supposed to count as a ‘structure’. The idea is insane, and yet Skai allowed this claim to go unchallenged, and the sad fact is that the vast majority of people in Greece simply have no idea how many people are in Greece as refugees, or are seeking asylum here, let alone how many refugee camps there are in Greece.
We should probably add that one of the camps Mitarachis certainly did close is Kara Tepe on Lesvos, a move which forced men, women and children into the far worse ‘accommodation’ at Mavro Vouno, a site with dangerously high levels of lead in its soil, and where there was not even any hot water for the first five – all winter – months.
More recently, he has closed Elaionas, in order to enable a local redevelopment plan and allow Panathinaikos to build a new stadium. The men, women and children living there have been scattered in camps all across the country, leaving adults hundreds of kilometres from their social networks and their jobs, and children far from the schools they attended.
Mitarachis also confirmed, as we have noted, that the Greek government intends to extend the wall along the Greek border with Türkiye to stretch for the border’s entire 220km length.
The EU Parliament has voted to refuse to fund this project, and we should note that despite Mitarachis’ claims that ‘the Left’ is to blame for this, the proposal to block the funding was presented to the parliament by a coalition which, while it included the Left and Green groups, also contained the Parliaments Liberal group. And more than half of the Right-wing European People’s Party group – to which Nea Dimokratia itself belongs – voted to refuse the funding.
The reason is that while it is in no way illegal to build a wall along one’s own border, it is to use that wall to prevent men, women and children to enter your country to seek safe places to live, learn and work. And as we have noted, the Greek government has been open that this is precisely what its wall will be used for.
On Friday (31 March 2023), for example Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis said of the wall:
‘I’ve always been a firm believer that we cannot reach a new agreement on migration and asylum unless we protect our external borders.’
And Panagiotis Harelas, president of Greece’s border force said on the same day:
‘At this moment we are discussing the extension of the fence for… mass invasions. Greece is preparing for a hybrid war where immigrants will be used - by the thousands - trying to enter our country.’
As we noted, the Turkish government has never and shows no plans of ever carrying out a forced mass movement of people from Türkiye to Greece, and even were it to do so this would indicate that it was far more, rather than less, likely that the people arriving in Grece were in need of safe places to live.
In any case, the fact is clear: the Greek government is open about its intention to use its wall to prevent people entering to apply for asylum, and this plan is a direct violation of international, EU and indeed Greek, law.
But on Mismatched, Mitarachis pointed out that the EU had already promised his government €100m for ‘accompanying projects’ such as surveillance and check-points along the wall.
‘In the European Funds approved in 2022 and managed by the Ministry of Immigration for the next seven years, there are €100m approved for 80km of additional border surveillance projects. The European Commission wants the accompanying projects to be eligible, i.e. the checkpoints, the surveillance systems. These are absolutely guaranteed. We say that the fence itself must also be eligible. The bottom line is that in the event that what we are asking for is not approved, the €100m is there. It is necessary anyway for the extension of the fence, and that is why we will be able to do the third extension as well.’
And this is an extraordinarily-important point.
First, because it is hardly an acceptable position for the EU to refuse funding an illegal border wall and simultaneously fund the tech and infrastructure to ensure that the Greek government can use that wall to break the law.
But second is a far deeper problem. Because if, as Mitarachis says, the €100m of tech and infrastructure is necessary to the wall operating as it should, there is surely an argument that that funding is what is enabling the wall to be built at all: that is, EU funding absolutely is being used to build and operate an illegal wall.
Even if it were not, there is a further possibility – indeed almost a certainty - that the government will effectively just use the €100m it ‘saved’ on tech to build more of the wall: once the money is in Greek accounts it simply increases what the Greek government can do by ensuring it can spend less of its 'own' cash on 'essential components' of projects.
We should also note that the EU itself is not above handing over cash to enable walls to be built. It gave the Turkish government money to build a wall on the Syrian border, precisely because it knew that this wall would prevent Syrian people escaping the bitter, multi-sided war going on in their country, and therefore reduce the likelihood of Syrian people finding safety in the EU.
But that does not change the fact that the EU has denied the Greek government cash to extend the border wall, but has handed over cash which will be used to extend the border wall.
Because every cent the EU hands to a government enables it to break the law, the EU absolutely must withhold money from any country whose government is breaking or planning to break international and EU law on its borders.
The alternative is the EU, as it is in Greece today, paying governments to break the law, and ruin lives.