With the world’s attention fixed on the coronavirus pandemic, there is little focus being placed on the situation developing on the border between Greece and Turkey. It is here, where the European Union begins, that thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Syria and elsewhere are seeking to throng into the economic and social bloc in hopes of beginning a better life.
On the Greek island of Lesbos, some 42,000 refugees are held in a camp that was designed for 6,000 — and one dreads to imagine what would happen in such a crowded camp if Covid-19 were to take hold. Elsewhere, on the Turkish side of the border with Greece, tens of thousands of refugees have massed and are attempting by any means possible, to risk all in a desperate effort to reach Europe.
The Turkish government has said it will no longer abide by the terms of a deal brokered between Ankara and representatives of the EU to prevent mass movements of refugees that swamped Europe from 2015 into 2016. Since then, a tenuous deal has meant Turkey has been compensated to hold the refugees, and Ankara says the payments are late, the system is broken, and it has had enough. If the truth be told, Ankara wants to pressure the EU to act in Syria where Turkish troops have been killed.
Greece itself has been shameful in its treatment of the refugees. The government in Athens has unleashed troops and tear gas on the desolate and desperate families who make it there and whose only intention is to fulfil their dreams for a life without misery and violence.
There are reports that EU officials are investigating a ‘black’ camp, where the refugees are secretly taken, abused, then returned to Turkey, with Brussels warning the Greek government that it has an absolute responsibility to treat refugees with dignity and respect. For its part, though, Brussels is not without fault.
In consultation with the Green government on Thursday, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner has announced a hastily concocted scheme to pay refugees in the overcrowded camps €2,000 (Dh7,900) each to return to their homelands. It would be far more effective if this paltry sum were instead invested in providing care and humanitarian aid to improve living conditions. The reality is that it will take far more than cash incentives or tear gas and razor wire to turn back this human tide. What is needed instead is a caring and compassionate open doors policy — and leaders willing to take up the mantle of Angela Merkel.