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News Hour > News Video

Greece struggles with refugee influx

Reporter: Filio Kontrafouri 丨 CCTV.com

06-17-2014 13:34 BJT

On the first day of our special series on world refugees, we turn to Greece, where refugees and illegal immigrants continue to enter the country. The vast majority want to move to other European counties, but they are stuck with no help in Greece, a country with tremendous financial problems.

It is a short, but dangerous journey. According to official estimates, over three hundred refugees tried to cross illegally to Greece by the sea. Many drown on the way, officially close to 60 this year, many more are missing. Coast guards say Greece can not continue to do this without Europe to share responsibility.

"It is a situation that will get worse. Just look at what’s happening in Iraq. Look at the prospects in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of allied forces. Look at the general, surrounding situations. Unfortunately, Greece because of its geography has had to handle this phenomenon since 3000 B.C., regardless of its cycles through time. Now, this phenomenon is at its peak. And we are asking for help. Help to manage the situation." Hellenic coast guard official Ioannis Karageorgopoulos said.

According to Europe’s border agency, FRONTEX, in the first quarter of 2014, 5.800 people were arrested for illegal entry to Greece through its eastern sea border;an 80 percent increase compared to the same time last year. It’s the second most active illegal border crossing to Europe, after the one from North Africa to Italy. There the number is five times higher.

Alaadin with his family and eight other relatives tried to take the Italy route for 10-thousand euros. They fled the Syrian war, went to Egypt and were bound for Italy, aiming to then move north. But after drifting in the Mediterranean Sea for nine days, they were rescued by a tanker and were brought to Greece. We don’t want to be here, he says. There’s nothing for us here, no jobs, no money, not even food. “Every day we eat pasta,” he tells me.

"There are many people who are alive but the human inside them has died. Compassion and humanity is the most important thing. And this child, if he doesn’t go to school, he is dead. When he sees he doesn’t have something to wear or eat like other children, when he cannot live out his childhood, his body may be alive but he is dead." Syrian refugee Alaadin said.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, for the first time in the last 10 years, Syrians are the top nationality illegally entering Greece. And it’s not surprising that they don’t want to stay here.

"The vast majority of new arrivals at the Greek borders, even though they might be people from Syria, Somalia or Eritrea they do not wish to apply for asylum, even when they do have a fair chance, when they’re offered a chance to do so. And this we attribute not to the lack of protection needs they may have but rather to their perception that it might be better to apply in another country because they have a better support network or because, if recognized as persons in need of protection, they have much better chances in getting integrated in the society." UNHCR’s associate protection officer Petros Mastakas said.

From Greece, thousands of refugees risk a second, equally dangerous and expensive journey to illegally reach other European destinations. And as port of entry, Greece is faced with a series of challenges.

It needs to get the solidarity of both EU institutions and other EU member states. In that sense, the challenge for Greece is to be able not only to protect its borders but also protect those who try to cross the borders. And occasionally we have noticed people are willing to take bigger and bigger risks when they try to cross the borders because the legislation is such that does not allow for their safe entry. And UNHCR advocates that safe routes are created for refugees so they are able to enter the EU without taking risks.” Mastakas said.

For those in charge of protecting the borders, Europe they say needs to look further away from itself and its boundaries if it is to tackle the refugee situation and minimize those risks.

"Lately, we hear proposals about safe routes that provide access to the European Union. Yes. But we should go to the beginning of that route, at the starting point of that route as a united Europe and be present there, undertake preventive action there. Can we do that? I’m sure we can as long as we make that decision. And we must make it now, before we witness more tragedies."  Karageorgopoulos said.

Alaadin rules out returning to Syria. He says he may go back to Egypt and try again to reach Europe through Italy. Or, take a bigger risk. Send one of his children unaccompanied to Northern Europe, hoping the rest of the family could join later.


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