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Overexposing the demands for Greek debt forgiveness is damaging

30 September 2015 / 16:09:12  GRReporter
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The SYRIZA government imposed radical changes in the refugee and migrant policy immediately after the elections in January. Do you think that these steps were in the right direction for Greece?

I think the Greek government had no migration policy or strategy for a very long period of time. As a result, in the summer we witnessed this unacceptable situation on the islands where thousands of refugees gathered, without the presence of even a minimum infrastructure for their reception. My opinion is that there was no effective coordination of policies.

The previous government was able to deal with migrant and refugee influx in a more effective manner. Do not forget that even today many of the people who are arriving in Greece are not refugees but migrants. I think that mistakes were made. Statements were also made that helped smugglers choose Greece and its islands that are close to Turkey. All these things have not created the problem but exacerbated its severity.

Therefore, I do not agree with the claims that today's government has been able to tackle the problem in a more efficient manner. We cannot ignore the fact that there has been a spectacular increase in the number of refugees arriving in Greece in recent months and this is not due to SYRIZA but to external factors. But the way in which SYRIZA tackled the problem was not right.

Every self-respecting country should not leave its borders unguarded and should provide humanitarian aid, which it is obliged to provide to all people fleeing to escape the war. Unfortunately, at some point, the events went beyond the abilities of the Greek government, which could not cope with them. As a result, we saw those unacceptable pictures on the islands and on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which are unworthy of Greece.

We see that the refugee and migrant wave to the Greek islands is not decreasing. Why months after the emergence of such an intense problem does Europe not have an adequate policy to solve it?

This is a problem with huge historical dimensions. The refugee and migrant wave has been the largest since World War II. Therefore, it is not something that Europe can easily handle with united efforts or the member states individually.

I think the problem is complex. It is rooted in the instability in many neighbouring countries to Greece and in the wars. Therefore, its final settlement could come only after peacemaking, for example in Syria. Another key country is Turkey, which is the first country that receives refugees from Syria and the rest of the countries in the region.

I would like to say that the problem would exist even if there were no European Union. I do not consider fair those who rush to accuse the European Union, though it certainly could, and should, do more things. The problem would have existed again, it is in existence now and it will persist. And I think that all recognize that the existence of the European Union is a positive thing and it is helping to tackle it, of course on condition that all member states will contribute towards the overall management of this crisis.

It is noteworthy that Eastern European countries are more negative towards the reception of refugees than Western countries. How would you explain this?

I admit that the position of some of our partners was a surprise to me, especially of Eastern European countries that had received assistance from the European Union in past, but not so distant, times.

Do not forget that after the invasion of the Soviet army in Hungary in 1968 Western countries received 200,000 Hungarian political refugees within 5-6 weeks. We would expect the presence of a historical memory that would have driven these countries to have a more generous and long-term attitude towards the problem, despite the difficulties.

I believe, however, that the solution cannot only come from the countries that are receiving refugees. It should be combined, with an increase in the number of documents issued for people to acquire refugee status, but mostly with operations in the major countries that are receiving refugees, such as Turkey and Lebanon. Thus, when peace is made in Syria, these sufferers can return to their homes faster. A prerequisite for all this is to try harder to pacify Syria and avoid past mistakes in terms of the diplomatic attempts to solve the problem in the country.

Could the refugee and migrant problem lead to another division of Europe?

Our friends from Eastern Europe may believe that Syria and the countries of North Africa and the Middle East lie remote from them and the situation there does not concern them, but I think that eventually they will realize that this is a global issue and it affects us all. I hope they will show more understanding.

Tags: PoliticsDimitris KourkoulasSYRIZA governmentPublic debtReformRefugees and migrantsEuropean Union
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