At the end of February 2019, there was some news involving refugees. It was to do with the gradual withdrawal of housing and financial support for anyone whose asylum application had been granted, beginning with all those recognised as refugees before August 2017.
There were several reactions to the news. Those that were against the decision of the Hellenic Ministry of Migration Policy were joined by employees of NGOs in strike action and a protest march in central Athens on Tuesday March 16th, demanding the retraction of the decision.
The first question that occurred to every refugee was “Why?” What is the reason behind the eviction? Is the relocation of asylum seekers from the islands behind the decision? If so, then the lawmakers must realise that they have chosen the wrong road. The only thing that will be achieved by throwing earlier refugees out of their accommodation in order to move people from the islands to Athens, will be a return to conditions of 2015, when Greece could not provide shelter for all those wandering around the city. It was somehow more acceptable then because all European countries were being swamped by the wave of refugees. But four years on, why is Greece still not able to offer housing?
I am sure that many will find themselves once more on the streets, because two years after their recognition as refugees in Greece, they have never been fundamentally assimilated and have to rely on their own means. If there had been language lessons for refugees, if their skills and all their efforts had been recognised, if they were able to look for work, then I too would support the Ministry’s decision.
I am of the firm belief that refugees should not be interned in camps for any length of time, but should be accepted by society. However, I am now slowly turning away from this belief because I know that there are no jobs available to us out there, so how can we possibly rent somewhere to live? What is more, the little Greek we have learnt is not enough to allow us to fulfill our obligations on our own.
I am against the ministerial decision because I believe that if we don’t find work and a place to live in a country where the unemployment rate is over 20%, we will end up in Pedion tou Areos park, in Victoria or some other square in town. How much longer will we be able to feed our children and ourselves? Many will turn to crime, such as robbery, or to prostitution. This will create an unhealthy environment which Greek criminals will take advantage of, because it will be easier to blame foreigners for all those crimes. The effect on Greek society can only be a negative one.
One more question comes to mind: whether the agreement between the EU and Turkey, signed in March 2016 is still valid. According to the agreement, asylum seekers are not allowed into Greece without the necessary papers. The aim was to reduce the flow of refugees from Turkey, allowing the Greek government to provide accommodation for all those already in the country and to integrate them into society. Did the agreement really help? If so, then why do we notice a daily increase in the numbers of asylum seekers? Why, four years on are there no regular educational programmes for refugees so that we can assimilate faster?
Refugees in Greece today have many skills and you could argue that if they were given the opportunity to work, they would contribute to the recovery of the Greek economy. Of course, this would depend on government officials and politicians creating the right conditions for refugees, and not passing hasty laws that create chaos in our society and in Europe as a whole. Even though politicians believe that these evictions are not a new and sudden decision, but a gradual process, shouldn’t they have first put in place a framework that gives professional and educational opportunities for refugees?
*This article has been published in issue #13 of “Migratory Birds” newspaper, which was released as an annex with “Efimerida ton Syntakton” newspaper (Newspaper of the Editors) on May 25th 2019.