Washington, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a Noon Forum on the topic, “The Migration Crisis and Its Implications for Greece,” featuring Katerina Sokou, Washington correspondent, SKAI TV and Kathimerini, April 6, 2016, at Hellenic House.
“We thank Katerina Sokou for providing us with much-needed insight on a crisis that has impacted Greece profoundly,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “The migratory crisis has placed an incredible logistical and administrative burden upon Greece, which is also dealing with an economic crisis. Clearly, Europe and Turkey are going to need to do more if this crisis is to deescalate.”
In her presentation, Sokou emphasized the implications of the humanitarian crisis and recent attempts to address the challenges it presents.
“This is an international problem no single nation can tackle,” Sokou said.
According to Sokou, for the European Union, the crisis has become an economic, political and security issue. Europe’s weak economy following the financial crisis complicates the potential to financially manage the refugee crisis, she explained. Politically, the EU faces security concerns that threaten to limit the acceptance of refugees, she added.
With regard to Greece, its geographical location has put it on the frontlines of this crisis, Sokou said. However, because many refugees would prefer to leave Greece, the country is one of transit status rather than a host, she explained.
Sokou’s presentation also provided insight figures on the immense scope of the refugee crisis. Thus far, a total of eight million people have been displaced in Syria, 4.3 of which have fled to neighboring countries. Turkey has received 2.5 million of those displaced. In 2015, Europe recorded a total of 1.26 million asylum seekers, effectively doubling last year’s numbers. The data presented by Sokou includes both refugees from Syria as well as other ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.
The number of refugees entering Italy and Greece grew exponentially last summer, Sokou said. Currently, close to 52,000 people are stranded in Greece as a result of the recent border controls, which prevent crossing into the Western Balkans or the rest of Europe. These developments threaten to destabilize Greece further, Sokou warned. Closing the Balkan route has increased the dangers of the crossing and has forced longer boat trips through Italy. An EU plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy has been unsuccessful, Sokou stated, quoting warnings by the European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos who said, “the system is at risk of collapsing if relocation does not occur.”
Challenges Abound for Greece
Greece faces a myriad of challenges and their capability to protect the refugees is proving limited. Sokou emphasized that the longer refugees remain in limbo the more they threaten structures of the Greek state, including security and public health. As anti-refugee sentiment rises radicalization could potentially follow, further contributing to the security challenges. Moreover, the number of refugee children entering and staying in Greece has placed a strain on Greece’s education system.
A Q&A session followed Sokou’s presentation.