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Syrian and Other “Refugees” Pour Across Open Border
In total disregard for the billions of Euros given to Turkey for housing Syrian and other refugees, President Erdogan has opened his borders. Syrians and others, displaced from the current strife in their countries of origin, or economic migrants seeking better future work or benefits, have spilled over in the thousands per day. There were 3.6 million refugees in Turkey at the start of this release. Greece and the rest of the European Union (EU) is starting to realize, after 5 years, that an influx that large may not be easily absorbed.
The existing situation was already out of control. The Greek Island refugee centers are already home to many thousands of refugees. They were built built to handle less than a few thousand each. Presently just one island, Mytilini, has 25,000 refugees and only 30,000 residents. Similar proportions exist on other islands, like Lesbos, Chios and Samos.
In 2016, a year after Greece’s latest financial crisis, there was a surge of refugees also. There was little regulation and up to a couple million got through illegally. Besides Syrians, there are Afghanis, Iraquis, Angolans and many other nationalities from the Mideast and Africa. Turkey agreed to house them for billions in aid from the EU, while they wait for asylum processing. It has not worked out according to plans however.
Out of the 150,000 that have arrived in the last five years, only about 2,000 have been deported. This is taking a heavy toll on the residents. One camp, Moria, on the island of Lesbos, has 20,000 refugees. They live in a place designed for 2,800 on an island with only 2,000 residents (the largest discrepancy). They were all supposed to be distributed in short order to the rest of the EU nations. Now one of the least able nations in the EU has been shouldering most of the responsibility.
The people of the islands are not seeing much of the former tourism. Resources are scarce and their property, like livestock, goes missing. Crime has risen, especially rapes and assaults. This not like the refugees from the former Czechoslovakia back in the 90s, said one resident. There were far less then, and little trouble was had hosting them. Athens does not do much so far. Now it has been hoping to provide closed camps instead of the existing tent cities around the smaller main camps.
Brussels Yawns, Bulgaria Holds
Brussels, the capitol of the EU, seems fine with the way it is, as only the countries near Turkey have to deal with the refugees. Bulgaria has not had this rush of refugees, which they attribute to having a wall, infra-red cameras, and at least 1,100 troops stationed near the nearest border zone in case they are needed. Erdogan of Turkey has not said convincingly why he has decided unilaterally to renege on his end of the refugee bargain.
Irate Locals and Irate Refugees
The residents of Lesbos have already started to take matters into their own hands. They are successfully turning away boatloads of additional refugees, though how effective this strategy will be, considering the volume involved is debatable. The first day of the release, an estimated 13,000 migrants came to the Greek border alone, that number is expected to double and increase further. Greek riot police are already trying to stem the flow, but it’s an uphill battle.
Greek government officials have scaled-back the timetable on new detention centers, and are in support of making existing camps closed facilities. This does little to reassure the residents. The refugees are suffering as well, with shortages of food, clean water and shelter materials. They were promised a quick turnaround and release at the Greek islands, but for some it lasts years. Attacks on refugees by other refugees happen often. There are few police watching them.
President Erdogan of Turkey has garnered much criticism for his decision to end the agreement unilaterally with the EU and no longer prevent crossings of the Turkish borders. His official rationale was that since 33 soldiers died in an attack from Syria, the situation could no longer be maintained. He has hinted at needing more support (read money) from Europe, as well as military support, against Assad in Syria. Others have reacted to him with accusations of blackmail, and resolve to not get further involved due to this latest move. It may signal more unrest in the region.