John W. Galanis, Supreme President of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (Order of AHEPA), the nation’s largest association representing American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes, has issued the following statement on the refugee crisis and its impact upon Greece ahead of two absolutely crucial March meetings, one an EU-Turkey summit and the second between the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey:
“AHEPA is concerned deeply about the inability of the European Union and Turkey to manage the flow of refugees to Europe, specifically to Greece. The American Hellenic community deems it unacceptable and an outrage that Greece is left to carry a large share of the refugee crisis burden based in part on geographic location and its 8,700-mile border – the largest in Europe – amid a crippling economic crisis. Greece is a reliable NATO ally and EU member-nation and finds itself under enormous economic and social pressure.
“More than 850,000 refugees reached the Greek islands from Turkey in 2015, according to the UNHCR. Already in 2016, 102,500 refugees have reached the Greek islands of Samos, Kos, and Lesvos, according to the International Organization for Migration. In 2015, it took until June to reach this level of refugee arrival. Each day, anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 migrants arrive on the Greek islands. On February 22 alone, 1,130 refugees arrived at Athens Piraeus port.
“Because of recently implemented restrictions by Balkan countries, at the urging of central European countries, Afghan refugees are being turned away at the FYROM border crossing at Idomeni, and a restriction on the number of migrants from other nations is in place. Consequently, nearly 3,000 refugees are backed up at the Idomeni crossing; and transit centers in Athens and Thessaloniki are at capacity with nearly 10,000 refugees. Some 1,700 refugees are camping out in Piraeus. Some 300 refugees are camping out in Victoria Square in Athens. Groups of refugees, including women, children and the elderly, are to be seen walking along the Athens – Thessaloniki National Highway on their way to the FYROM border. Approximately 3,000 refugees are arriving daily in Piraeus from the Greek islands. It is estimated that 25,000 refugees are presently within Greece, and this figure is expected to double within the week. In essence, as one diplomat put it, Greece has become an ‘open air detention camp.’
“Moreover, Austria’s exclusion of Greece from a conference it called this week with nine Balkan countries to discuss the crisis is baffling. The conference announced its participants would not comply with a previously agreed-to EU policy of facilitating refugee flows until the March meetings. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz stated Greece had shown no willingness to reduce the influx of refugees. He did not explain how Greece – with an immense maritime border – was supposed to do this. Calls for an end to Schengen by some in European circles further exemplify a fragmented and dysfunctional Europe.
“We applaud the statement of United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Filippo Grandi, who presently is in Greece and said, ‘…with every passing week, it appears that some European countries are focusing on keeping refugees and migrants out more than on responsibly managing the flow and working on common solutions…’
“The refugee crisis in Greece, and the resulting instability it has created, is not in the best interest of the United States or the European Union and has left the American Hellenic community and Diaspora perplexed and indeed angry. Although AHEPA is encouraged with a NATO mission aimed to dismantle the human trafficking rings and to reduce refugee flows has begun, we call for much more support, cooperation, and coordination from the European Union, Balkan nations, and Turkey, all of which can play a far greater role in controlling the flow of refugees to Europe in a more responsible manner. Turkey, especially, can do more to squash the workings of human traffickers and smugglers who are profiting as much as six billion dollars, according to Europol, off the desperation of the refugees.
“AHEPA calls for the United States to remain engaged and to support Greece in the crucial weeks and months ahead as the ramifications of a continuation of the refugee crisis and the growing instability it promotes are serious and beyond measure. President Barack Obama’s video conference call with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week is welcomed and appreciated. Their discussion of the Syrian crisis and the consequent refugee crisis can only be helpful.
“AHEPA will not tolerate an isolation of Greece, a valued and trusted NATO ally, during this critical time. We call on the community, individuals and organizations alike, to reach out to Congress and the president to express their dismay and concern about the refugee crisis in Greece, and to make clear the source of this crisis, namely Turkey.”