Refugees in Piraeus. Image: W. Aswestopoulos
Greek government defends itself against accusations of inactivity, smugglers can go about their work in Athens or Piraeus largely unhindered
Greece has a double problem. On the one hand, the country is practically insolvent and is kept on a short leash by lenders. No law, no social expenditure can be passed without the approval of Brussels (EU, EU Parliament), Frankfurt (ECB) or Washington (IMF).
Despite this objective factual situation, Greece is pilloried for another problem. The country is accused of not protecting its borders properly. The exclusion from the Schengen area is threatened. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister’s Office officially recognized this threat of the Schengen partners. Up to now it was denied again and again.
The Greek government defends itself against the reproaches. Immigration Minister Giannis Mouzalas admits delays in creating hotspots, but rejects accusations of negligence. Aubenminister Nikos Kotzias calculated that in 2015 alone more than two billion euros had to be raised for the refugees.
Also with the Hotspots it is not only the finances, which complicate the mechanism of the disputed plants. Every day on the island of Kos there are riots with casualties. Burgers oppose hotspot to be set up on private field commandeered by military. A group of angry islanders has organized itself and regularly blocks the access roads. Fires are set and boulders are brought to the straw.
The islanders feared for tourism not only on Kos. Another reason for the chaos on the picturesque island of Kos is the local mayor, who wants to make his political mark with his resistance. He publicly addressed Prime Minister Tsipras and demanded the withdrawal of the task force police officers sent to protect the tree removals, because otherwise there would be "there will be deaths".
The attitude of the police to the subject is divided. Emergency police officers shouted at demonstrators to "We fuck you all". Police unions, on the other hand, denounce the fact that the forces have been used as a buffer for political failures. Sufferer of the explosive climate over the weekend was MP Ilias Kamateros (SYRIZA). He actually wanted to visit his constituency on the weekend and possibly relax a bit. But even in the coffee house he was not safe from the demonstrators demanding his resignation.
Similar scenes are also taking place on the mainland, as in Thessaloniki in northern Greece. The reactions of the citizens are also influenced by fears about events like the New Year’s Eve in Koln. They also feared that the refugees would not be able to leave the country because of the repeatedly closed borders in the more northern states of the infamous Balkan route. In Sindos, near Thessaloniki, angry burghers tore down the fences around the hotspot under construction.
Finally, in Eidomeni in the district of Kilkis sit almost 5.000 refugees stuck at the border. After a few days of warmer weather, it has become colder again, so that the conditions in the temporary camp are inhumane. Migrants who, knowing about the problems in Greece, chose the alternative route overland from Turkey to Bulgaria, became victims of the cold weather. A woman and a girl between 14 and 16 years old froze to death during the arduous march.
Smugglers openly search for customers with signs
To prevent migrants who are turned away directly at the border from coming north from Athens, some changes have been made in Piraeus, where the ships that have become refugees dock. In contrast to the late autumn, men in camouflage suits armed with automatic weapons now watch over the orderly course of events alongside the police. The scenes are rather ghostly, contrary to the welcoming culture of the summer months. The ships dock late in the evening, but also at 5 o’clock in the morning. There are no longer the throngs of photographers and cameramen who, with their presence alone, kept not only the law enforcers, but above all the smugglers, at bay.
Unwary smugglers run through the crowd with clearly recognizable posters about the size of Din-A 3. They are looking for customers. They are supported only by volunteers, who have to listen to a flood of barely printable threats. The law enforcers react rather laxly. "Sneak away, I don’t want to see you here anymore", on Sunday at about 8:30 p.m., a bald-headed, bulky smuggler was seen. The man can be seen regularly in the port, but also in the center of Athens, for example in Victoria Square, where wandering refugees gather. He is not afraid at all, because he is apparently not arrested, as one should expect. He can easily scare away observers he does not like, even with the help of some companions.
His approach is simple. He waits until either groups of refugees or immigrants approach him, or until he identifies a cruder group standing isolated apart. Then, with the sign in his hand and a migrant apparently working for him in tow, he approaches the group and begins to haggle. Although not well known by name, his pragnant appearance, stocky to fat, bald and with a rogue face suitable for film roles, is known to helpers and photographers in Athens and Piraeus, but also at the northern border in Eidomeni.
On this Sunday, the extremely active man was not very successful. One of his groups was segregated by the forces of law and order, which drove him away. The smuggler did not care that the law enforcement agency had taken the group out of the public bus that was free of charge in the harbor area. He still cheekily wanted to sell them the onward journey to the north.
The packs of the immigrants, who seemed to be scared, were checked with the help of dogs. Throughout the ceremony, a soldier had his submachine gun menacingly at the ready. The dogs found nothing, the papers of those searched also seemed to be in order. The group was simply chased away, as was the smuggler beforehand.