Temporarily racist. The rise of the right in Greece.

The rise of the right in Greece gives cause for concern at a  time when the EU has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. People on the streets of Athens talk of civil war, and even if only speaking in hyperbole, this can be read as a legitimate expression of fears based on harsh every day realities. Golden Dawn, the right wing Nationalist party, fills a vacuum the state has been unwilling or unable to fill: that of addressing the issue of immigration.

   Members of parliament from the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, intermingled with other new lawmakers as they are sworn in during a ceremony at the Greek parliament in Athens, Thursday, May 17, 2012.
Due to the nature of it's island geography Greece has highly permeable borders. It is the south-eastern frontier of Europe and, until now, an attractive proposition for economic, social, political and conflict created refugee influxes from the east (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria) and south, i.e. Africa. Greece, however, does not form a free flowing conduit for the hopeful or hapless to the rest of Europe. Within the EU illegal immigrants, when captured, are returned to the country where they entered. At least that was the case until 2011, when rulings by the EU's Court of Justice judged that conditions in Greek detention centres amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment -a violation of human rights. Most countries, according to IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN, have stopped transferring asylum seekers back to Greece.

An estimated 810, 000* irregular migrants now live amongst a Greek population of 11million. Greece, it could be argued, holds a disproportionate percentage of the EU's illegal immigrants. It is also fast loosing it's qualified youth in an economic brain drain to more stable economies such as Germany and Brazil. What Nationalists tend to forget is that immigration and emigration are bedfellows.  Since joining the EU skilled educated Greeks have rightfully taken the opportunity to work throughout Europe:

 "According to a recent (2012) survey by Bundesagentur für Arbeit, a German research firm, the number of Italians and Greeks registered to work in Germany has risen by 22 percent in less than a year," (from Daily Beast). 

Filling the void left by those who have gone immigrants take up the slack in the low paid, seasonal and casual posistions  supplying agricultural, tourist and service sectors.

The route west to Greece is often via Turkey. According to my own experience Turk smugglers are able to provide phoney passports and passage via the islands or land bridge to mainland Greece. (I recently met Iranian refugees in the UK who obtained fake EU passports in Turkey). Greek, Albanian, Egyptian, and Nigerian human trafficking syndicates are also reported to operate in Athens. A report from IRIN estimates 130,000 undocumented migrants entering a year, most of them via the land border with Turkey.

The Greek Government, with EU backing, has recently deployed more border patrol capacity to firm up it's exposure to immigration in the East. Klaus Roesler, the man charged with running the EU's external borders agency Frontex remains sanguine about his humanitarian responsibilities: 

"If we consider the huge amount of poor people who want to go to the EU, who are willing to risk everything for that, we cannot ignore the responsibility to respect the fundamental rights of those in need. "They are brought by organized facilitation groups, paying them for this illegitimate crossing to Greece, even 1000-1500 Euros per person." Once in the grip of trafficking groups life gets no easier for the migrant and thier family back home: "The trafficked persons have to keep making money for the trafficking organizations." he said in an interview with Balkananlysis.

Greeks are not by essential nature racist. How else could they have been such welcome holiday destination for over 40 years? Ilenia, 29, an Electrical Engineer from Larissa, suggests a reason for the right wing rise. Greeks, due to accumulated unresolved problems she says, are: "temporarily racist."

Interment camps have now been set up as the centre right government takes action on the issue in order to reclaim voters lost to Golden Dawn. Many questions arise as a consequence: is this the best way to treat people, illegal or not, in the 21st century? Do internment camps not smack of a right wing ideology that the very foundation of Europe was based on deterring? Has Europe not created it's own refugee problem through the consequences of the foreign policy of it's own nation states and military alliances? And, is there another way to look at the immigration problem with more collective responsibility and  humanity? Europe, it seems is fundamentally being tested.

IRIN | Photo | Slideshow | Greece’s Migration Crisis

Knotted Flag. Photo: M.Perry


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