Since late November, Idomeni, on the border between Greece and Macedonia, has become a real hell for thousands of refugees. The decision by the Republic of Macedonia on 19 November to close its borders to all refugees except those from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan has left thousands trapped.
Almost all the NGOs who were active at Idomeni have left, due to fear for their physical integrity, leaving refugees without even a bottle of water. The “humanitarian” government of Syriza-Anel is absent as regards humanitarian aid and relief to the refugees but present with the iron heel of the riot police.
Women, men and children live literally in the mud, and burn whatever they can find in order to warm themselves; children are sleeping next to trash between the makeshift tents that have been erected by the refugees themselves in the fields around the camp.
Some Iranians have begun a hunger strike and sewn up their mouths. A 22 year old Moroccan refugee was electrocuted when he tried to climb on the roof of an abandoned wagon in the railway station and touched power lines. His body was taken to the hospital of Kilkis by other refugees, who marched, weeping, with the dead body along the border line.
While the corpse of the Moroccan refugee was still on the rails, Greece’s immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said in parliament: “Idomeni will be cleared. The government will find a solution and this solution obviously will not be a walk in the woods by carefree school children. It will be a difficult solution for our government, and I believe for all political parties, since nobody wants to use domestic violence”.
The EU leaders’ threat used to be that they would push Greece out of the eurozone.
Now, using the threat of Greece being expelled from the EU’s Schengen area (within which there are no passport checks at internal borders), EU leaders have demanded that the Greek government hand over the “protection and control of its borders” to the EU’s notorious border-protection force Frontex.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Greek EU commissioner for migration, “urged” the Greek government to take stringent measures to control “refugee flows” by 17 December, date of the next EU summit.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said that Greece has no place in the Schengen zone since it was unable to guard its borders. Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, likened the Greek border to “Swiss cheese with multiple holes”.
The EU leaders are pressing the Greek government to act upon the commitments it has made at previous EU summits for the creation of five “hotspots” for the registration of refugees (one has already been created in Lesbos) and of camps or detention centres, and to halt the movement of immigrants to other EU countries.
Essentially, they are demanding from the Greek government an aggressive policy of preventing refugees and migrants arriving in our country. In fact, of letting the modern “sans papiers” drown themselves when attempting to cross the Aegean Sea on plastic boats!
For the majority of Greeks, the “threat” of temporary or permanent exit of Greece from the Schengen Area has no particular significance. The working-class majority cannot afford holidays in other EU countries, and anyway the only effect will be that to travel in another EU country we will be need a passport. In any case, Britain and Ireland are already outside the Schengen zone.
What is politically important is the realisation by the Greek people that despite (or because of) our government’s subjugation to the whims of the eurozone leaders, Greece’s position within the Eurozone and within the EU framework is far from secure.
Again to the fore is the German plan for a “two-speed Europe”, which was explicitly concretised by German finance minister Schäuble’s proposal for a “temporary” exit of Greece from the eurozone. Among the dominant EU states, the idea is gaining momentum that European integration in its present form is on its last legs and only a reactionary split into “core” and “periphery” can rescue it.
Meanwhile, despite Syriza’s humanitarian proclamations, the government of Syriza-Anel is being forced by “our EU partners” to act as the border-guard of Fortress Europe against uprooted refugees and immigrants.
I like the “free movement” offered by Schengen. So I want the free movement of people to be applied to everyone and everywhere. To be enjoyed not as a “privilege” but as a right for all. If it comes to it, we would rather spend a few hours more in the airports together with our brothers from Africa and Asia than become accomplices in the transformation of the Aegean into a water cemetery.
At a 29 November meeting the EU and Turkey agreed to implement the Joint Action Plan which “will bring order to migration flows and help to curb illegal immigration”.
The agreement provides for cooperation between the two sides with regard to “immigrants who are not in need of international protection”: Turkey will need to capture and deport them.
The EU will pay Turkey €3 billion, will speed up Turkey’s application for EU membership, and will abolish visas for entry of Turkish citizens into the EU. These are the rewards promised to Turkey in order to act as a watchdog and restrict the flows of migrants and refugees to Europe.
24 hours after closing the deal Turkish authorities arrested more than 1,300 refugees on the Turkish coast, at the places where they usually depart for Greece, and took them by bus to a hotspot/recording centre. It was found that the overwhelmingly majority of them were Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis whom even the EU recognises as refugees.
In any case, it is clear that people who cannot live neither in their own country nor in Turkey will find at the end a way to leave illegally, and the Turkish operations will be just an additional obstacle on their journeys which are already long and dangerous.
To the desperate and persecuted people who are simply looking for a new land to start their lives from scratch, the Greek government does not give even a bottle of water. To force migrants to return by train to Athens, they abandon them without food at the mercy of the riot police. After the government has completed what Mouzalas referred to as “clearing”, the border will be handed over to Frontex.
The most critical demand for the Greek anti-racist movement remains that Syriza government keep its pre-election promise to demolish the fence at Ebros, on the border with Turkey.
In Greece the Left, alongside the trade unions, the anti-war and anti-racist movement must strongly demand no Greek involvement or complicity in the EU leaders’ war against refugees.
Refugees and immigrants are welcome!
No screening centres, detention centres, or “hot spots” in Greece.
Unilateral withdrawal of Greece from the Dublin II Treaty.
Provision to welcome refugees.
Integration of the refugees and immigrants into an international working class movement that is challenging the dominant meta-narratives of austerity and hermetically sealed borders.
Greek myths always tell us something, sometimes by their reversal. The meditation, self-reflection and skepticism of old Daedalus is good, but in moments like now, we need the confidence and impudence of the young Icarus.