A Greek-American’s Reaction on How Greece Treats Refugees


Ronald_Reagan

*By George Asimakis – Ronald Reagan once correctly said that the United States is the only country where an immigrant can feel accepted – truly accepted – by society within his lifetime.

Those who know me know I am no Ronald Reagan fan. He is incorrectly credited with winning the Cold War (among other good things) when Gorby who single-handedly ended it, gets no love for it up to this date, even from the West.

But Ronald Reagan was right on this one. The US was and still is a nation of immigrants. Protected by two oceans and endowed with vast resources compared to population, it is still one of the best places to seek refuge. The people are acceptive. Refugees, if they can arrive here, are treated with respect and dignity. They are given opportunities that no nation state would give them.

Unfortunately not the same can be said of Continental Europe, and more so the country of Greece, where I grew up and love. Last week’s events near Farmakonisi, Greece make me ashamed of the place.

Several refugees from war-torn Syria, poor people who escaped a brutal civil war to seek a new, better, life for their children were reportedly mistreated by the Coast Guard. It was reported that Greek Coast Guard agents intentionally pulled their raft at high enough speeds to throw women and children overboard and let them drown in the deep blue waters of the Aegean, a few clicks from shore. The survivors were left in open sea, returned to Turkish territorial waters in a classic “problem not-in-my-back-yard” fashion.

The official government denies the reports but there are several witnesses of the incident.

Granted that not all of Europe behaves this way – but most does. Ironically, according to records, in the EU only Germany, France and Spain have agreed to accept Syrian refugees – with only Germany accepting a significant number.

We live in an intertwined world marked by drastic changes in transportation and technology. Movement of people is a given and if Europe wants to remain both democratic, competitive as well as humane it needs to adapt to more American ways.

The game of prosperity is now less between Japanese vs. Chinese and more about capitalists vs. laborers, more about skilled vs. unskilled, more about hard-working vs. lazy. Pax Americana and the threat of nuclear holocaust in the next World War, for better (or for worse for some) is bringing a more meritocratic regime globally and the slow death of the nation state. Europe and Greece (If it wants to be worthy of being called Europe) need to adapt.

To be fair, Greece does not have the luxury of a protected border. It lacks resources and has a massive, porous coastline in close proximity to a turbulent Middle East and poor Africa. it is the gateway to the West for Millions of people fleeing famine, war, oppression, tyranny. But that does not give anyone, let alone government-sanctioned employees to kill or abuse anyone with impunity. Even if one were to look at things purely in a business fashion, Greece, deriving 20+% of its GDP from tourism should protect and preserve its image of a welcoming paradise, not damage it.

Instead of asking 225 million on protecting the border and only 18 million in refugee placement, training and assimilation (and getting it) from EU authorities, it should develop a plan to better accept the refugees and the immigrants, put them to productive use, protect their livelihoods and benefit from it – train them and turn them into agricultural or tourism workers. At the very best, it should respect their human rights.

Now (to preempt the critics) don’t get me wrong – I like Greece, Italy, Spain the way they are; their old medieval towns, their architectural character, their pristine beaches. I am not calling for jihadists who want the destruction of the West (while at the same time receiving the benefits of the European welfare state) roaming the streets of Athens, Paris or Amsterdam. The plan should be to accept, assimilate and instill European values to the newcomers. The plan should be to accept them as part of society and teach them the language and the customs irrespective of their religion or skin color. Accept their children and embrace them; give them a path to full rights and citizenship. Protect them and “exploit” them for the good of their new land. A social contract for a Europe that will transcend the relic of the nation state.

But firstly it should be to train the law-enforcement apparatus to at least respect their human rights. Anything short of that makes me ashamed to call Greece (or Europe) my place of birth. Days like these, I am proud to be an American.

*George Asimakis is an economist.