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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Ukrainian arrivals: the hypocrisy and what we must make it mean

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis has updated parliament on the measures in place, and those being developed, to help Ukrainian people arriving in the country seeking safe places to live, learn and work.

The government has already created a website with information designed to help Ukrainian people seeking refuge in the country, and Mitarachis says this site will also contain a page where those people can seek work (Tourism Minister Vasilias Kikilias has already noted that there are ’50,000’ tourism jobs which ‘went unfilled last year: we should note that many of these are extremely poorly-paid and that there was already a potential work-force of around 25,000 (at least) refugees already in the country: it is reasonable to ask why these people were not helped into these jobs: Monday 28 February 2022 Tourism jobs ‘open for refugees’. But only Ukrainian refugees)).

Mitarachis said: ‘We advocated for international law and in the critical hours that followed unequivocally condemned the invasion. We belong to the West, we take the road of peace, and we aim to build stability in our 'neighbourhood'.’

All of which is true, and is a relief to most of us. But once again, it would be remiss if we were to ignore the fact that, much like its Polish equivalent (which has also worked hard to welcome and help Ukrainian people) the Greek government has consistently, specifically and deliberately broken international law when it comes to absolutely all non-Ukrainian refugees for the last 25 months (in terms of pushbacks) and longer (when it comes to the broken ‘service provision’ and standards of care for those it has allowed to be in the country at all).

Mitarachis also said that there are now 15,000 beds available for Ukrainian arrivals, and that this may rise to 30,000, which he claims is because of ‘reduced congestion’ on the islands and in mainland Greek refugee camps (on Thursday 17 March 2022, the Greek government said 10,700 Ukrainian people, 3,478 of whom are children, had entered Greece).

Once again, the organisation and effort here can be commended – though of course the camps were already in place and did not have to be built/converted from nothing. But the phrase ‘reduced congestion’ is a euphemism for ‘people being prevented from arriving and entering the asylum system’ and we must note that we have been on this refugee response now for six years (in its current phase; seven in reality) and we are still pushing people into camps when there are still 500,000 empty properties in Greece. As we have noted several times, we could, under a focused and targeted refurbishment programme, not only provide every single refugee and homeless person in Greece with an entire building to live in each, with around 200,000 ‘left over’, but also provide thousands of people with jobs in the process. The EU’s Migration and Integration Fund, which successive Greek governments have used to put people in camps, is designed for exactly this sort of programme.

Mitarachis also outlined – again – that the major ‘reception centre’ on Greece’s border with Bulgaria (Promachonas) is staffed by Ukrainian people, and offers food, drinks and ‘detailed information’ in Ukrainian about what can happen next, while he said that ‘two reception centres’ (refugee camps) have been ‘redefined’. Though he only spoke about Sintiki in Serres, where he says there are ‘first-level’ lodges for ‘short-term’ accommodation.

And he noted that from 4 April, the regional asylum centres at Thessaloniki, Attica, Patras and Crete will be open, to provide Ukrainian people with biometric residency permits, AFM and AMKA numbers.

The latter have been specifically denied to other people seeking asylum in Greece since August 2019.

Mitarachis said: ‘Greece actively supports displaced Ukrainians and has opened its arms to welcome them.’

Which, once again, is to be welcomed. But we cannot but note that it has specifically, pointedly and deliberately refused to do this for refugees of literally every other nationality, and has in fact worked to make it far harder for those people not only to arrive in Greece, but to stay and build lives here if they somehow manage to avoid being beaten, stripped and robbed before being pushed back to Turkey.

The government reportedly hopes that the Ukrainian response across Europe will ‘change attitudes’ to refugee responses, and is believed to hope that ‘particularly the Visegrad’ nations (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic) ‘who have been toughest on [those] issues’ will now change their policies, particularly recognising the ‘value’ of ‘proportional relocation’ of refugees across the continent.

If this is an accurate reflection of Nea Dimokratia’s position, then it is a welcome development. Because this Greek government has in fact been at least as violent and vicious towards refugees as all except Poland since 2017 – and even in Poland’s case, the Greek government has used its armed officers to attack far more people than the Polish government.

And we should note that there is ‘value’ not only in ‘refugee relocation’ but also in the people themselves. Both in terms of the fact that they are people, and in ‘pragmatic’ terms: the fact that they are reducing the average age of the Greek population, that they are skilled (and/or can certainly learn new skills), talented, motivated and bright, brining new outlooks, ideas and cultural perspectives, as well as their abilities, to Greece.

The Greek government really needs to realise – and be helped to realise – that the people who have arrived here are a massive potential benefit to the country. That they are already making Greece a more vibrant and innovative country, and that given even the slightest assistance they will do even more.

In summary, we must welcome the Greek government’s response to the Ukrainian situation, and welcome what it is doing to provide opportunities to those people (though, once again, we must stop putting people in camps: this is the European Union, in the 21st century). We must welcome it because it is the right thing to do, in every sense of the term.

But we must also welcome it because we must hope that the Greek government – rather than just the ‘Visegrad states’ (though those too – all of Europe, in fact, and the world) will alter its opinion and behaviour related to all refugees.

And for that reason – because it is right to help Ukrainian people, and to help everyone else who needs help, and because doing so will benefit us all – we must help it to work, and where it does not, offer constructive advice and assistance to improve what is not working well.

We cannot and must not forget that the Greek government – this Greek government more than its predecessor – is guilty of treating people who arrive here illegally, barbarically and indefensibly.

But we must take this: its ‘new approach’ to Ukrainian people – as an opportunity, and work to make sure everyone, Ukrainian or not, receives what the government plans, and even more.


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