Migration Dilemma of Greece

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Greece, as the easternmost country in the European Union (EU), bordering the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas has become both a transit and destination country for the refugees in Arab Spring and the subsequent influx that began in 2010. In 2010, the mobilization that started in the Middle East was followed by the second and third waves of migration because of the events in Afghanistan and Yemen, and finally, due to the Russian-Ukrainian War that started in February 2022, both Ukrainian refugees and Russians who wanted to escape the partial mobilization announced by the Moscow administration started to mobilize as migrants towards European countries, including Greece.

At this point, continental countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, and Malta were among the first countries to welcome asylum seekers in Europe. Although this process was sustained with EU funds, after a while, migrant boats started to sink, especially on the Aegean coast of Greece, many asylum-seekers started to lose their lives and as a result, Greece and the EU’s asylum-seeker policies started to be questioned.

In 2015, Europe faced a serious refugee crisis. Some EU countries refused to let asylum seekers into their countries in any way, which led to painful events for asylum seekers. After 2015, although the issue of asylum seekers and migrants was kept away from the media for a while, disastrous events started to take place again on the eastern coasts of Europe. Finally, the sinking of asylum-seeker boats off the Aegean coast of Greece in 2022, the severe living conditions in the camps established at the border, and the deprivation of hygiene and basic needs in these camps have once again brought the issue to the agenda.

Greece is experiencing a refugee crisis on the islands rather than on the mainland. A report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) titled “Building Crisis at the European Border”, published on June 9, 2021, focuses on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, and states that a completely preventable and predictable policy-driven humanitarian crisis is taking place there.[1] While this report highlights the deteriorating psychological and physical health of adult and child asylum seekers, MSF has called on the Athens administration and EU authorities to remedy the situation.

As it is known, Athens is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as Greece is a member of the European Union (EU). According to the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, member states are obliged to comply with the Charter. The principle of “non-refoulment” about asylum seekers is recognized here. According to Article 19 of the Charter, it is prohibited to return a person to a place where he or she is in fear of persecution or where there is a serious possibility of being subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.[2] However, many civil society organizations and non-governmental actors, such as the MSF report, have drawn attention to human rights violations at the Greek border.

These reports provide concrete evidence that the Greek Government is pushing refugees back. Most recently, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) reported that the Operational Cooperation Agency for the Management of the External Borders of the EU Member States (Frontex) has not taken any action against the push-back of refugees from the Greek coast. Under EU and international law, Frontex has a legal obligation to guarantee respect for human rights. However, OLAF emphasized in this report that Frontex has worked to ensure that violations are not documented and investigated, rather than taking steps to prevent human rights violations.[3]

Due to all these reports, Greece was criticized by human rights advocacy organizations and similar institutions and organizations. Moreover, the OLAF report later shook the trust in the EU institutions. Therefore, the events led to the questioning of the EU’s migration policies. The growing reaction against Greece also led Greek decision-makers to change their discourse.

At this point, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, made statements stating that asylum seeker and migration policies are not equally divided among EU member states and that joint action should be taken on this issue.[4] While Mitarakis is right in his statement, due to geographical realities, it is not realistic to aim at reducing the burden on coastal countries. Nevertheless, Greece reiterated that it cannot join Italy, Malta and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus (GASC) in sharing the view that host countries are the only possible destinations for migrants, noting that the numbers expressed by other EU countries “represent only a fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals.”[5]

In response to this reaction from Greece, on November 24, 2022, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas announced additional funding of €1.9 billion for migration support to Greece. Moreover, Schinas stated the following in the context of aid to Greece:[6]

“Greece has received the strongest assistance from Europe. We have so far provided over €2.5-3 billion in financing for Greece, and we are announcing that we will support the country with an additional €1.9 billion in the current period. We have stood by the needs of all member states, especially the host countries.”

Here, it can be stated that the EU has developed a discourse aimed at both deflecting criticisms against itself and suppressing the complaints voiced by Greece. Therefore, it can be said that Greece used the economic aid move.

In conclusion, Greece and the EU have made many mistakes in their asylum seeker and migrant policies. These mistakes have been demonstrated by international organizations and non-governmental organizations. The issue of asylum-seekers, which has recently come to the agenda again with the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War, and especially the human tragedies on the shores of the Aegean Sea in Greece, show that something has gone wrong. As criticism against both the EU and the Greek government increased, the Athens administration changed its rhetoric and argued that the EU should share the responsibility for the refugees with other coastal countries. The EU, on the other hand, increased the funds allocated to Greece to both prevent criticism and prevent Greece’s outbursts.

[1] “Constructing Crisis at Europe’s Border”, MSF,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[2] Doç. Dr. İsmail Şahin, “Yunanistan’ın Yasa Dışı Göçmen Politikasının Garantörü AB”, Anadolu Ajansı,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[3] “Revealed: The OLAF Report on Frontex”, FragDenStaat,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[4] “Mitarakis: EU Needs To Share Management Of Migration”, e-Kathimerini,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[5] “Ελλάδα, Κύπρος, Ιταλία και Μάλτα για το ασήκωτο βάρος στο προσφυγικό”, Efsyn,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

[6] “Έξτρα χρηματοδότηση σχεδόν 2 δισ. ευρώ από Κομισιόν στην Ελλάδα για το μεταναστευτικό”, insider,, (Date of Accession: 03.12.2022).

Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem Balcı, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Balcı, aynı zamanda Rusça ve Yunanca öğrenmektedir. Başlıca çalışma alanları Balkanlar ve Avrupa'dır.