The following can be seen as a footnote to the huge debate surrounding migrants and refugees. It reflects the personal opinion of the author and under no circumstances does it represent United Youth Journalists as an organisation.
For the past few years Greece has been in the spotlight as the receiving point of a wave of refugees coming from war-stricken countries, attempting to reach a safe haven. While there is plenty of debate on the manner the country is dealing with the incoming refugees, their human rights, the economic support Greece needs to tackle the situation, what is -maybe not- so surprising to me are the mixed reactions from Greeks themselves.
Avid xenophobia blends effortlessly with death-defying, self-sacrificing attempts to support the refugees. Instances like those of Croatia and Slovenia and others opting to close their borders to millions of people fleeing because of conditions we could not possibly imagine proves that political choices are hard and sometimes even reflect privilege. While there have been admiring stories of hospitality and kindness, there has also been a lot of political and social discrimination against the refugees which, again, is not surprising in itself. Accepting a number of new individuals in one’s country is an enormous concern for every possible manifestation of state-run life and each government would be hesitant to take on a challenge they might not be able to tackle – which is what is extensively complex about this: there is nothing “quick” or “easy” about the decisions being made, and most of them, even if they are seen as racist, could be justified. Yet, I do remember it is important to reflect on the extensive history Greece has had in dealing with migration, a tale that dates more than 5,000 years.
Setting aside ancient history, where hospitality was the most important duty of a citizen, in modern Greek history there have been two major migration waves. One of them took place in the 1890s and one happened after WW2, with mostly skilled workers leaving the country for labour. Between 1890 and 1914, almost a sixth of the Greek population migrated, mostly to Egypt and the US, expanding the idea of the “Hellenic Diaspora” and fostering the notion that a Greek element exists and must be kindled around the globe. In the second wave, more than one million Greeks migrated to the US, Canada, Australia and Western Europe. Greece also accepted almost 2 million refugees after the Asia Minor disaster in 1922. Most recently, in the past ten years there has been a continuity to the culture of migration with highly educated youth moving to countries with better educational and professional prospects, the so-called “brain drain”. And still, from 1990 to 2001 two waves of Balkan immigration to Greece were noted, with the past 4 years being characterized by yet another wave of Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Greece is a small country, 76 times smaller than Canada – another prime migration destination. Her struggle to integrate refugees should not raise any questions, as it was already struggling with the integration of immigrants coming from the Balkans. A clear reflection of how much the country is in turmoil is the rise of the Golden Dawn party, a neo-nazist initiative created in 1980 that only gained momentum in the past 5 years. In the 2015 elections it won 7% of the votes and lived up to its notoriety as its entry into Parliament, where they are unrolling one xenophobic policy after the other, was coupled with its members being involved in multiple lawsuit and accused of violent attacks. And obviously, while not everyone agrees with Golden Dawn’s policies, many believe that Greek sovereignty is being eroded by the alien elements, worsening the living conditions of the natives.
But how does it feel being the spawn of a culture that has such strong ties with immigration, and yet still being opposed to it when the tables have turned? Of course the suggestion is not that the ideal solution is to blindly open all borders and accept everyone at all times. Yet, an insight into the mindset we have as citizens is necessary, and to be fully aware that migration has been a vital part of history even before writing was invented. Humankind evolved due to migration, a once-in-a-while stir up of cultures, ideas and languages which is necessary for society to move forward and for new realities to come to the surface.
Europe, perhaps the grandma of modern society, has indeed been closely linked to migration and it is, in my opinion, hypocritical to ignore that legacy. Mexico, the US, Argentina, have all been the recipients of European migrants, while the European continent itself is full of young international students and international skilled labour. Now what many believe in is the death of Europe, and trying to hold onto an ideal of ethnic purity and standards is, while logical, unimaginative.