Europe and the crisis on the Greek border

For more than a week now Greek police have been using tear gas and water cannons against refugees and migrants who have gathered on the Greek-Turkish border in the hope of entering the EU after Turkey opened its border. Voices in Europe's press call on Brussels and the individual EU member states to come up with sensible strategies.

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Times of Malta (MT) /

EU as unprepared as in 2015

The Times of Malta is peeved that the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson had no concrete measures to propose during a visit to Malta two weeks ago:

“While acknowledging that relocation between states was 'an important part of the European approach to migration and asylum policy' she had no concrete proposals to offer. As the commissioner responsible for this European policy area at a time when political events affecting migration in the central and eastern Mediterranean are escalating internationally in an uncontrolled manner, it is a source of concern to a frontline state like Malta that Europe appears, again, to be lacking the plans, mechanisms or, indeed, political will to act.”

Dromos tis Aristeras (GR) /

Turkey turning Thrace into a political grey area

Ankara is deliberately destabilising the Greek border region of Thrace, warns the weekly newspaper Dromos tis Aristeras:

“The settlement of populations from the Middle East and the transformation of the area into a zone in which armies, NGOs, secret services, paramilitary groups, Frontex and others are active point to a turbulent future. ... What is happening here is a textbook case for destabilising entire regions. The situation is similar to the pre-Balkan crisis in Kosovo. Erdoğan's movements follow the same pattern as the ones that preceeded his intervention in Syria, when he used the populations expelled from there as weapons and an alibi.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Keep a cool head

In Denmark two right-wing populist opposition parties are demanding that the red-green government immediately close the border to Germany to asylum seekers. Berlingske is against the idea:

“Perhaps it's the complexity of the problem that makes politicians panic and resort to populism. But that's the last thing we need right now. It's therefore commendable that the government is keeping a cool head and focusing on how Denmark can best contribute to securing the EU's external borders. ... It must also be stressed that the refugees have not yet arrived in Europe. Claims that the EU has been inactive since the crisis of 2015 are simply false. The EU's external borders have been considerably strengthened in recent years, as is now being demonstrated in Greece in particular. Admittedly, we still have work to do here.”

Mediapart (FR) /

All Europe has failed miserably

The entire EU is becoming an accomplice with Greece's illegal practices, human rights expert Agnès Callamard rails in an interview with Mediapart:

“The push back method being used is prohibited by the Geneva Convention and human rights conventions. Greece is in an absolutely lawless situation in terms of international law because, let's remember, it's not in an armed conflict and the circumstances do not justify the state of emergency that has been declared. ... Greece is violating international law, but I also blame European immigration policy. One cannot criticise Greece without criticising all the European states that also bear responsibility.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

Any country would act like Greece

Athens must not give in to such pressure, the Cyprus Mail counters:

“Greece came under criticism for the violent clashes witnessed between migrants and its security forces, but would any other EU member-state have acted differently? Would Hungary, Austria or Poland have welcomed 10 or 20 thousand migrants gathered at their borders? In fact, Austria's prime minister Sebastian Kurz said his government had strengthened the country's borders so there would be no repeat of 2015, when there was a mass influx of refugees and migrants. ... What it will be is difficult to say, but Greece should remain steadfast in its position, regardless of the criticism from international agencies such as the UN and the Council of Europe.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Erdoğan the scapegoat

Condemning the Turkish president for opening the border is too easy, writes Der Standard:

“The accusation that Erdoğan is blackmailing the EU is unjustified. Despite all the criticism of how he's gone about it, his action is based on a legitimate concern: Turkey needs more help to cope with the masses of refugees - nearly four million in the country and many more on the other side of the border in Syria. It's untrue to say that this influx can only be explained by Erdoğan's policies in the war zone. ... The EU has a vital interest in ensuring that these people are well cared for where they are, rather than having them start heading for Europe en masse. Responsible politicians must therefore seek to reach an understanding in the form of a new refugee deal with Turkey.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

The refugees are your problem too!

Europe should finally take an interest in the tragedies that are playing out in the Middle East, warns Yeni Şafak:

“We appeal to the citizens who are the heart of Europe and America! How many people will your states leave homeless and futureless through mercenaries and technologies that they are testing for success? Ask yourself this question first, and then your state. The world cannot go on like this. ... Every stateless youth, every child whose future is stolen, is also a threat to the lives of your children. Face up to this fact! As long as you leave Turkey to cope alone with the pressure while continuing to talk of 'human rights' and 'refugee rights', the mask of humanitarianism you hold in front of your face cannot remain intact!”

Seznam Zprávy (CZ) /

Our children won't understand the cynicism

As necessary as sealing off Europe may seem, history will judge Europeans for it, Seznam Zprávy believes:

“If a large proportion of Europeans are not interested in compassion and are willing to elect extremists who embody the worst motives in 20th century European history, all one can do is to accept this cynically and act accordingly. ... The pragmatic new approach to the migration issue will logically also increase apathy towards the suffering of war refugees. This is the price to be paid for depriving extremists and populists of their ammunition. History, of course, will not praise us for this. And it will be difficult for us to explain it to our children.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

Protect the national interest

The Greek state is doing what it has to do, writes the pro-government daily Kathimerini:

“Nobody wants to chase away families and children who have lost their homes and are looking for a better future. Nobody. But a state's job is to defend the national interest, sometimes at any cost. Besides, we are not faced with a simple humanitarian crisis, but a powerful and ruthless state that has decided to weaponize those unfortunate people to blackmail Greece and Europe. ... We have entered a time of grave, unpredictable and asymmetrical threats. To deal with them we need a state that acts in a way that is professional and - occasionally - tough.”

Lost in EUrope (DE) /

EU now aligned with Orbán and Salvini

Orbán and Salvini are no doubt delighted with the pictures coming from the Greek-Turkish border, writes Eric Bonse in his Lost in EUrope blog:

“Heavily armed borders from which refugees are being pushed back with water cannons and tear gas. And EU leaders are actually celebrating this with a visit. ... Salvini, in particular, must feel vindicated. When he closed Italian ports to rescue boats he was admonished by Brussels. Now Greece is doing the same, only on a much larger scale. And the EU Commission remains silent. Even after repeated requests, von der Leyen's spokesperson on Tuesday refused to comment on the question of whether collective 'push backs' and the suspension of asylum laws in Greece are compatible with EU law. ... ... It's incomprehensible that the EU Commission, as 'guardian of the treaties', is looking the other way or taking days to react.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Europe's historical lie

The EU is gambling away its moral credibility on the Turkish-Greek border, criticises El Periódico de Catalunya:

“One of the great sleights of hand in history was that this Europe, whose people had previously devised a thousand ways to kill each other, which invented racism, supremacism, colonialism and genocide, became the guarantor of human rights all over the world after World War II and the Holocaust. But as we can see now that the problem is on its own borders rather than in a distant country, this was all just a lie. The Europe of lofty principles has degenerated into nothing more than a club of businesspeople; all it can offer the refugees is a shield and von der Leyen's compassion - always from the other side of the border. And then we look down scornfully on Donald Trump.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

EU must negotiate with Assad

The EU should strive to achieve a long-term solution in Syria, writes Middle East reporter Markus Schauta in the Wiener Zeitung:

“Putin won't lose any sleep over European politicians demanding that the pressure on Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin be increased. ... Further sanctions against Syria would mainly hurt the population. ... Assad has won the war with Russia's help. The only way to influence the government in Damascus now is through reconstruction, because then the EU can make its aid conditional on compliance with its demands. Perhaps an end to torture, a few reforms and the federalisation of the country can be achieved. ... These are modest goals, but at the moment they're the only way to put an end to the Syrian catastrophe. However, the precondition is that EU first starts direct talks with the government in Damascus.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

An existential threat for the EU

For Zeit Online, criticism that the EU is being uncaring is unjustified:

“'Shame on you!' is what the accusation amounts to. It's so massive and at the same time so diffuse that it makes a political debate impossible. Yet precisely that is what is needed right now. In recent days the EU has upheld its legitimate interests. That includes not tolerating irregular mass migration. If it does, it will put its own existence at risk. This, at least, is the lesson it learned from 2015. ... That doesn't make Europe a fortress. ... More than half a million asylum applications were accepted by European countries last year, compared with 1.3 million in 2015. In Germany alone, more than 165,000 asylum applications were submitted in 2019. In a word: Europe is taking in refugees. On a daily basis.”

Der Standard (AT) /

This is not about border protection

But in a guest contribution in Der Standard, migration researcher Roland Hosner rejects the argument that the measures are about border protection:

“The idea that this is about protecting the EU's external borders is a distortion of the facts. ... It goes without saying that border guards must check those trying to enter and refuse entry to those without an entry permit, a residence permit or an asylum application. However, if the vast majority of people waiting in the cold on the Greek border are refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran, this argument collapses. And saying that Turkey is responsible is also not legally tenable, because Turkey is not a safe third country - and what's more it doesn't apply the Geneva Refugee Convention to these groups.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Unworthy of a major power

Instead of pursuing a consistent policy with regard to the Syrian conflict the EU is just throwing money around, Jutarnji list complains:

“Whenever the EU faces criticism that it is not doing enough, as it is now regarding its efforts to solve the Syrian crisis, Brussels' response is the same: 'The EU provides the most financial resources.' ... But if you ask for a clear position, you won't get an answer. The EU apparently continues to react only when a problem becomes its problem. Now that the threat of a new wave of refugees from Syria is looming, the situation is suddenly causing a big commotion in the EU. ... This is not the way a community that wants to be a major geopolitical player in the world should behave, especially when it wields such enormous financial and economic power.”

Avgi (GR) /

Europeans must shoulder responsibility

Money alone won't solve the problem, Avgi emphasises:

“Athens must exert pressure so that a new agreement between the EU and Turkey is concluded. So that there is a radical change in the Dublin Regulation and the refugees are finally distributed fairly among all European countries. Athens must use every means at its disposal to urge the Europeans to assume their responsibility. Greece must not voluntarily assume the role of a dike in return for a few million euros. ... Athens has many possibilities to exert pressure. For Europe functions according to the principle of unanimity. And if there is no solidarity, there will be no consensus.”

Hämeen Sanomat (FI) /

Omissions will have consequences

The EU is ill-prepared for a new flood of refugees, Hämeen Sanomat points out:

“Unlike Turkey, the EU is seeking to solve the problem through diplomacy. ... It wants to talk to Turkey's representatives about the refugee situation and the Syria crisis. Unfortunately, however, it has few instruments at its disposal. Turkey cannot be brought around with fine words alone, especially since the US no longer wants to have anything to do with the conflict. ... According to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, EU countries are obliged to help asylum seekers fleeing war. But joint centres still haven't been set up on the external border to coordinate the reception of migrants wanting to enter Europe. The omissions of the past will be paid for in the future.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

A unified front is needed

Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis needs support from Europe and from all parties at home, Kathimerini urges:

“Today's planned visit to the Evros border region will send a strong message, though we are beyond messages at this point. ... Our European partners, meanwhile, have not supported Greece as much as they should have over these last few years. ... Faced with a national crisis of such magnitude there is only one way to go: a unified domestic front with reserved rhetoric from all sides and the avoidance of blame-giving; coordination with European leaders and political allies inside the EU; and a common message to the international community.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

EU hasn't put it's time to good use

The EU has been twiddling its thumbs on refugee policy since 2016, the pro-government daily Magyar Hírlap complains:

“With the EU-Turkey agreement of 2016 Europe managed to buy some time. But it hasn't made good use of this time, even though it was clear that this agreement would not last forever. Turkey's President Erdoğan has repeatedly pointed out that he could open the gates. But in spite of this the EU has not done enough for its own security. ... Measures such as border protection, refugee centres outside Europe and above all the assistance on the ground that Viktor Orbán and Sebastian Kurz have repeatedly called for should have been introduced long ago.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Europe's heart is cold

The EU can no longer be put under pressure with refugees, De Standaard notes laconically:

“The refugees weren't told that the Greek borders would remain closed. Now they're stuck in a no man's land, prisoners of a cynical power game between the EU and Turkey. If Erdoğan thinks he can use the helplessness of the refugees to force Europe to support his Syria policy, he'll see that Europe's heart has become very cold. 'We can do it' is an echo from the past. The door is closed.”

Ivo Indzhev (BG) /

Populists stoking anti-refugee sentiment

The claim that most of the refugees who want to leave Turkey for Europe are young men is an ugly lie, writes Ivo Indzhev in his blog:

“It is intended to frighten those who believe that these people are not fleeing the war out of necessity, but are part of an insidious plan through which Muslims and jihadists want to conquer our continent. The propaganda about young men as the dominant group among the refugees can easily be refuted by international studies that have examined the proportions of men, women and children fleeing the war in Syria.”

To Vima (GR) /

Refugees entitled to protection

It's time for Europe to assume its responsibilities, To Vima stresses:

“Refugees are human beings and they have rights. This also applies for the Greek side. We can't treat them as if they were intruders and a threat. International law clearly states that people have the right to safely reach the countries where they seek humanitarian protection. ... The Greek side must not respond to Erdoğans cynicism with brutality. This is an opportunity to remind Europe of its responsibilities. It is not the task of our country to be the guardian of Fortress Europe.”

tagesschau.de (DE) /

Take Erdoğan's joker away from him

ARD's Istanbul correspondent Karin Senz accuses Europe of hypocrisy on tagesschau.de:

“Under no circumstances does Europe want to help Turkey militarily. After all, it says, Turkey got itself into this mess. And it did. But this time Erdoğan's goal can't be reduced to securing more power and influence. He is also trying to keep even more refugees from coming to his country. The means are reprehensible. But Europe is also trying to keep the refugees at bay using unworthy means. It is buying its freedom by giving Turkey one billion after another. ... There's no sign of a solution, but a first step must come now. The countries of Europe must take refugees off Turkey's hands. By doing so they will deprive Erdoğan of his joker - and even more importantly: for the first time since 2015 they would be showing the compassion they should be showing.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Chaos must not prevail

The EU must establish law and order at its borders, Berlingske demands:

“The developments show that it's a risky strategy to delegate the solution of asylum pressure at Europe's borders to other countries. It makes one easy prey for blackmail attempts, and we can't count on the rights of refugees being respected. In any case, agreements with third countries such as Turkey must never stand alone. When we now see thousands of people gathering at the border with Greece we are reminded of the importance of effective surveillance of the EU's external borders. As a community, we must ensure that chaos and the law of the jungle do not prevail. ... On the European side we must also exert more pressure on Russia to reduce the hostilities in Syria.”

Ria Novosti (RU) /

New sanctions against Russia are unlikely

Ria Novosti doesn't believe that by opening Turkey's borders Erdoğan can force the EU to take strong action against Russia:

“In theory one can magine a scenario in which the EU, intimidated by the throng of refugees at its borders and the prospect of a repetition of the 2015 'migration crisis', decides to use economic means to influence Russia. But this scenario doesn't fit in with (relatively recent) historical experiences and the geopolitical logic of Berlin and Paris. Any sanctions that the EU can impose on Russia without seriously harming its own interests have already been introduced. Any measures beyond this are reserved for exceptional circumstances. The 'protection of Turkish interests in Syria' is hardly something for which Berlin or Paris will take steps that are so painful for themselves.”