If you have been following the unfolding the refugee crisis in Europe, you should be able to tell your newly-minted post-Communist authoritarian from your jewellery-snatching Nordic, and your foaming-at-the-mouth Brexiter from your number-fudging Mitteleuropean. This quiz will test your knowledge of the political response at the European frontline of the migration flows.
Q: Who is responsible for the following policy pronouncement: “We will not allow illegal immigrants to come in and provide them with healthcare and benefits too, the Greek people will not permit it”?
A: Then Greek PM Antonis Samaras (5 January 2015). In a last ditch attempt to cling to power, Samaras made his final campaign stop to look “presidential” in front of the Evros border fence. The fence, erected between Greece and Turkey in 2012 was his “baby”. In many ways it was ahead of its time; considered too extreme at the time by the EU to support it, the $3.3 million tab was picked up entirely by Greece in the midst of an austerity onslaught, while refugee flows were less than one thirtieth of what they are today. It has since been outdone several times over by Hungary ($81 million), as the rest of the continent has now succumbed to Samaras’s “fence fetish”. Had he survived politically to oversee the subsequent developments, there can be little doubt that there would be less squeamishness over practices like “push-backs” designed to “seal” the borders. Translation: more drownings.
Last week, the Greek Deputy Immigration Minister accused his Belgian counterpart of telling him to “drive them back into the sea; go against the law; I’m sorry, but I do not care if they drown”; the comment has since been vigorously denied but there has been no alternative suggestion on any side of the negotiating table as to how to keep the refugees and migrants from making landfall in Greece. The Evros fence still stands as the main obstacle to travel by land to Europe, and there are no plans to dismantle it.
Q: Who warned that “‘refugees’, in quotation marks, [headed for the island of Farmakonisi]… are, ultimately, unarmed invaders, weapons in the hands of the Turks”?
A: Nea Demokratia MP Sophia Voultepsi (31 January 2014). The fact that refugees and migrants are crossing the oft disputed waters between Turkey and Greece tosses another political football onto the field and on a practical level complicates rescue efforts (more of which below). Right-wing media hogs find the temptation to conspiratorialise hard to resist. Several female and underage “unarmed invaders” had in fact drowned in their alleged attempt to claim Greek territory for Turkey only days earlier. Voultepsi was recently entrusted with the Social Solidarity brief in Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s new shadow cabinet.
Q: Who said that recently arrived refugees and migrants sleeping rough in Athens were merely “sunning themselves”, and that “that’s how the refugees live in Germany”?
A: Then Greek Deputy Immigration Minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou, (April 2015 and August 2015). At the time, arrivals had reached 124,000 for the year, and the only central government intervention consisted of bussing them into central Athens where they resorted to camping out in parks and squares (see our write-ups at the time, here and here). Those who had hoped for a more progressive immigration policy under Syriza (or, as Samaras would have it, “transform[ing] Greece into a magnet attracting illegal immigrants to the country”) were disappointed, as political compromises and the sheer scale of the evolving refugee crisis won the day. Widespread public outrage at the government’s inaction meant that Christodoulopoulou did not survive to see another term in the Cabinet. Even out of office, Christodoulopoulou has become a soft target. It has become a mantra of the opposition to blame her personally, and Syriza’s so-called “open borders policy”, for attracting increasing numbers of refugees and migrants from 2015 onwards – they clearly rely on their audience not following the international news to be able to ignore that there are much bigger forces at work.
Q: Who threatened that “If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State too”?
A: Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, 9 March 2015. No doubt after Paris he feels that history has vindicated him.
Q: Who made this reassuring statement on the eve of the Greek referendum: “The country’s Armed Forces ensure the stability at home”?
A: Kammenos again, 3 July 2015. What has been described as a global crisis sadly did not rise to the level of a civil emergency in Greece, sufficient for the armed forces to throw up a few tents, install sanitation and cook some hot meals to ease the pressure on the refugees and the local communities that have had to host them. Recently, Kammenos’s Cabinet colleague, Deputy Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, accused the Ministry of Defence of stalling and horse-trading over the completion of registration “hotspots”. We wish we could take credit for the Greek government’s decision, announced a few hours after this post was published, to press the army into action to manage the logistics of refugee reception.
Q: Who proposed the following “win-win” solution for Greece: “Our goal is to agree with our [European] partners that if the situation deteriorates, the funds that Greece will spend will be excluded from the calculation of the deficit”?
A: Greek PM Alexis Tsipras was the first to link the Greek debt negotiations to the refugee crisis (29 September 2015). Not for the first time, he overestimated his bargaining position, or underestimated the ruthlessness of his interlocutors; a few months later a much less favourable “debt-for-refugees” is being mooted, which names the “ringfencing” of refugees in Greece as the price for a debt writedown. Usually sober Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachmann breezily described his own version of it thus: “The broad outlines of the deal would be simple. Greece agrees to seal its northern border with EU help, stopping the flow of migrants into northern Europe. In return, Germany agrees to a massive writedown of Greek debt, as well as immediate financial aid to cope with the current crisis” (25 January 2015). Not officially an option, you understand – which almost certainly means that it is. Now Greece faces yet another ultimatum from Brussels: three months to improve its border checks or risk having tougher border controls imposed on it by other European countries, just in time for the start of the tourist season. Not an official suspension of the Schengen Treaty, you understand, but “if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck”… you get the picture.
Q: How many funds has Greece received from the EU to help manage the flow of refugees?
A: €0, according to PM Alexis Tsipras (30 October 2015) and more recently Greek Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis (January 2016). It is really hard to view this as a virtue, especially when combined with rhetoric that is pointedly critical of the European handling of the crisis. There are EU resources available, namely €500 million in funding, plus the EU Civil Protection Mechanism which offers support in kind and has been activated by other EU countries in the Balkans, but which the Greek government has not gone through the process to claim for reasons best known to themselves. One local critic of this stance described Greece’s failure to avail itself of existing EU support mechanisms as a “crime of omission”. Consciously missing opportunities to improve the management of the refugee flows is really hard to rationalise on its own terms, especially while claiming in the same breath to be over-stretched. It only starts to make sense if viewed in the context of a negotiating gambit, in which unaided (or minimally aided) refugees are used as bargaining chips to achieve a national political goal. I hope I am wrong in making this connection, but I fear that in either case the outcome for Greece will be a poor one. Watch this space.
Q: Who tweeted “We have the most modern aerial weapons systems–and yet, on the ground, we can’t catch traffickers who drown innocent people #EUTurkey”?
A: PM Alexis Tsipras, 30 November 2015. Only a couple of weeks earlier Greece had rebuffed a European proposal that it carry out joint border patrols with Turkey. Instead, the EU agreed €3 billion in aid to Turkey plus a reopening of talks on its EU accession to deter refugees from travelling to Europe, having agreed a series of similar grants to illiberal regimes in Africa to hang on to potential refugees and economic migrants. Ankara was too busy playing hardball with Brussels to pay heed to his sophomoric plea. So that’s all good then.
Q: Who proclaimed that “We will not allow Greece to be turned into a warehouse of souls (αποθήκη ψυχών, apothíki psychón)”?
A: Greek government spokespeople including the PM and the Immigration Minister, most opposition spokespeople, media, commentators etc. (a casual Google search returned approximately 180,000 results). Sounds sensitive and humanitarian but is in fact most commonly deployed as doublespeak for NIMBY (“not in my back yard”). Typical of this usage is a letter of complaint to the Deputy Immigration Minister from a group of mayors whose areas were selected for temporary shelters: “We will not allow the former Hellenikon airport to be turned into a warehouse of souls,” before going on to reel out a laundry list of security concerns.
Q: Who issued the following dire warning: “If the powers that want Ellis Islands [in Europe] win, then we may have a problem”?
A: Greek Deputy Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, 28 January 2016, in the course of a fractious meeting where he was barracked by pro-immigration protesters demanding the opening of the Evros land border. It is unclear whether he was confusing Ellis Island with Guantanamo Bay or Auschwitz, or whether he was badly misquoted. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, as the alternative would betray a very skewed view of history with worrying implications for policy-making.
Q: What is wrong with this picture?
A: In the background, enlarged photo of the grandmothers of Lesvos, three elderly women captured engaging in a spontaneous moment of humanity. To the left, a national symbol, to the right a supra-national one. In the foreground, a career politician and a veteran of the NGO circuit now in political office, whose combined visits to the islands at the time of writing can probably be counted on the fingers on one hand, basking in the reflected (but undeserved) glory. While individuals and grassroots volunteer groups filled the void left by central government, European and international institutions, there has been a rush to appropriate the kindness of citizen volunteers for nationalistic pride and political gain. There is a proposal to nominate the Greek islanders on the frontline of the refugee crisis for a Nobel Peace Prize. There are some people out there who fully deserve an accolade – but watch out for bandwagon-jumping – like this.
BONUS GLOBAL QUESTION
Q: What can this picture tell us about the ongoing refugee crisis?
A: This is the SS St Louis, arriving in the Belgian port of Antwerp in June 1939. If you haven’t heard of it, take a moment to read about it. It will make you think about how history might judge us.
This post was considerably enhanced by contributions from readers to whom I am grateful for crowdsourcing political gems that had slipped through the net.