Refugees Trapped In Greece As Europe Looks the Other Way

There’s a lot going on in the U.S. with Trump, the Democratic primaries, the possible rise of fascism and the horse race in general, but as has already been reported here the nativism and xenophobia we are watching develop in the GOP is already showing up in Europe. Now we are learning that Greece is being forced to house tens of thousands more refugees as gates into the rest of Europe close one by one.

Thousands of new refugees are arriving every single day and thousands more are being turned away from the country’s northern border, culminating in violent clashes between asylum seekers and police on February 29th. Refugees tried to escape into Europe by cutting holes into a razor-wire fence; police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd.

This was less then a week after ten European nations announced new policies to stem the flow of migrants into the continent. Austria and nine of the Balkan states agreed to take whatever actions they could to stem the flow of refugees coming in from Greece as Europe as a whole prepares for a new surge of refugees this summer. The European Union has become paralyzed with indecision on this issue, leaving individual or smaller groups of countries to adopt their own refugee policies.

But as usual, reality isn’t waiting for politicians to catch up.

Greek riot police forcibly removed Afghan protesters from train tracks this past week as the government decided to block all Afghan asylum seekers from entering into Europe. Newly arriving Afghans make up a third of refugees streaming into Europe, but will now be able to make it no farther into Europe than Greece. The crisis is becoming so acute that one of the few proposals from European ministers so far has been a drastic scaling back of freedom of movement: restricting passport-free travel for anyone, regardless of status, across the continent. Another idea that was floated among ministers in Europe was the creation of an Eastern European border and coast guard agency to keep the refugees out with presumably even more armed force.


The hammer has also came down on Greece, the new scapegoat for all of Europe’s problems. Greece recently recalled its ambassador to Austria because, despite the fact that refugees are pouring into the country, it was excluded from talks on how to deal with them. Even Greece’s neighbor Macedonia has left the country and the refugees within to fend for themselves, suddenly closing its borders this past Sunday. The decision was literally made as refugees were crossing the border, leaving 4,000 stranded on buses at checkpoints and unable to move forward.

Then on Wednesday, Austria and other countries increased the pressure on Greece by declaring caps on the number of refugees they would accept this year. Germany joined in by declaring it wanted to see the number of refugees there “fall significantly”, as Angela Merkel faces a political rebellion at home for her “liberal” policy on allowing asylum seekers shelter from a civil war in Syria. Germans are increasingly uneasy about letting refugees into their country or the continent in general, and that’s shaping the entire political debate throughout the EU on the issue.

With the U.S. election season in full swing, coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Europe and the violation of the rights of millions of refugees is being all but ignored (with the notable exception of the superb work of the NY Times on the subject). We wrestle with the vague possibility of a wall being built on the Mexican border because of an inane promise by a single presidential candidate while much worse is happening in Europe. Human beings fleeing the terror of a conflict they have nothing to do with are being interned in camps and gassed at the borders of enlightened European democracies.

This is the great humanitarian crisis of our generation, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting.

Featured image via Flickr/Takver

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