|EU President and Turkey Prime Minister, photo Burhan Ozbilici AP|
This week the EU and Turkey held an emergency summit in Brussels to address a refugee crisis that is trapping a flood of men, women, and children inside Greece’s borders. The massive warm weather migration season hasn’t begun but thousands sit penned up in makeshift shelters amid conditions it seems few journalists are allowed to witness. Tempers are flaring all across the region, and as frustration grows, there is no doubt things will get worse.
To me it’s obvious. A half-dozen years ago I wrote this sentence in a book: “Member states kept returning immigrant asylum seekers to Greece claiming that, as their original E.U. entry point, by law they’re a Greek problem—as if Greece were the European Union’s immigration filter trap.”
Today there’s not even the pretext of some other arrangement. Greece is the EU’s de facto refugee filter trap, holding pen, relocation center, or whatever other euphemism one wishes to use. And with Greece’s ever-worsening financial circumstances—and make no mistake about that reality—it is the EU’s the most vulnerable and malleable candidate for the title.
|Greeks donating food in Athens Constitution Square|
|Piraeus food distribution center, photo Thanassis Stavrakis AP|
A betting man would say the answer to the question, “What will happen?” is found in what matters most to the involved nations’ electorates: debt repayment or repelling refugees. That’s a harsh way to put it, but obvious from the behavior of the parties concerned.
The question is how will the Greek government handle this opportunity to rescue both the refugees and its own people from parallel crises? Europe is desperate to rescue itself from the refugee influx—perhaps even so much so as to bite at Turkey’s (current) latest demands for cutting off the flow—but cannot do so without Greece front and center in the mix. Greece best think long and hard on what it wants in return, for it will not likely have this clear an opportunity again.
It is a time for firm—but civil—negotiations.