Monday 11 June 2012

Because an Economic Crisis is not Enough

Erik Edman

A Frontex policing unit on patrol. Frontex, the EU border control agency, is assisting Greek authorities by providing manpower and special equipment for policing the problematic border. Aegean Times.

Blame the Greeks
Europe appears to be a continent at war with itself. Krugman famously referred to the population as “Those Revolting Europeans”, and for a good reason. In France, Italy, Spain and Greece, people are rising up in protest to the rules laid out by others to regulate their countries’ affairs. But surely the European Union is an organisation of cooperation? Are the regulations set up by the EU really foreign intervention? Are we not in this together? 
Since economic crises and political anarchy are becoming clich├ęs, let us take a new case study into consideration: the European Immigration policy. In order not to stray too far from the mainstream of political discussions however, let us apply our argument to debt-ridden Greece.
 The small country is the entry-point of 80% of Europe’s illegal immigrants. Greece receives, on average, 250 illegal immigrants every day, and in 2011 local authorities registered a total of 55,000 people who had crossed the border illegally. Why can’t the Greeks pull themselves together?
The E(x)ternal Rivals
The majority of immigrants enter Greece by crossing the river Evros, which acts as a natural border between Greece and Turkey. Turkey itself faces huge immigration problems, with people flocking in from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and, as of late, Syria. As Turkey’s political gaze turns ever eastwards, and with its decreasing interest in impressing its European neighbours for a possible EU membership, the Turkish military (which according to the country’s laws is in charge of border control) is becoming more and more willing to turn a blind eye to the dark shadows struggling against the river at night. They are even less willing to cooperate with the Greeks for possible extraditions of illegal immigrants back to Turkey. Out of the 55,000 immigrants arrested crossing the Greco-Turkish border, Turkey agreed to receive 770 back, even though there is a relevant treaty in place between the two countries. “Turkey is not complying” says the Greek police commissioner for Orestiada, a northern region of the country.
Greece has been receiving strong criticism from its European partners for not doing enough to contain the issue. In 2011, the Greek government proposed the construction of a fence spanning the 206 kilometre border with Turkey. The plan was internationally condemned and replaced by a far smaller 12.5 kilometre fence, built near Nea Vyssa, where the river turns into the Turkish mainland. Although the EU has approved of the project, it has refused to fund it, and so Greece has resolved to pay the 3 million euros needed for the construction from its own government budget. What government budget, you ask. I am not sure.
Illegal immigrants tell stories of how they paid people smugglers from as far off as Pakistan and Somalia, to lead them to Europe where they hope to make an honest living. “We are not thieves or robbers”, said Islam, a young immigrant from Algeria, “life is too hard back home. We work too long for too little.” Once their odyssey leads them to the border, they are ushered onto plastic dinghies and are instructed to rip them using knifes once they reach the opposite side of the river. That way, they are told, the Greek authorities cannot send them back. In many cases, the small boats capsize and people are drowned, either by being pinned to the riverbed by the strong current, or simply because they cannot swim.
Is the EU working as hard as Greece?
As a response to the upsurge of illegal immigration, the EU has deployed ‘Frontex’ in Greece; Europe’s border control unit. Armed with state-of-the-art equipment, Frontex officers assist their Greek colleagues in finding and transporting illegal immigrants to detention centres from where they are usually released, with a 30-day deadline to leave the country. These detention centres have been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for keeping people in “vile and inhumane” conditions. Ironically, however, Frontex (an EU organisation) brings thousands of immigrants to the detention centres every year. Once again we are faced with European hypocrisy.
Greece is a country facing disintegration. This, of course, should not be used as an excuse for mistreating human beings. Given its weak condition and geographical positioning, it makes for a natural target for people smugglers and hopeful immigrants looking for a brighter future in the promised land of Europe. If Greece is to stay within the EU and therefore act as a border defender for the Union, then the Union should recognise the problematic situation the country finds itself in. Money is non-existent, neighbours are uncooperative, and Europe is complaining. The number of immigrants Greece has to face would be staggering for any of its stable European counterparts, let alone a nation in serious financial and political trouble.
Let’s Face It
European demography is aging. New pairs of hands are needed to take on jobs Europeans shun, and support the continent’s societies, let alone enriching them. Europe is in definite need of workers. The EU appears to have recognised this, as is evident from the EU Immigration portal, the Single Permit Directive and the Long-Term Residence Directive, all of which are aimed at making immigration into Europe easier and more organised. These moves hope to limit the need for people to cross European borders illegally. Although admirable, the EU must recognise that illegal immigration will not simply end because legal immigration is made easier. European outposts such as Greece still need strengthening.

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