The rush of migrants on to the Greek islands is concerning. The devastated communities of Syria, Iraq and Afganistan often have no choice but to flee to the West, and one of the easiest routes is across Turkey, and onwards to the nearest Greek islands. The scenes of suffering are terrible to watch. But the media will always show the most affecting images. The reality rather different.
For a journalist living and working in Greece, the problems, heartbreaking as they are, I see that they are now being managed far more effectively. The initial confusion has eased. Proper reception centres have been built on the most affected islands, and holding centres, of a reasonable standard, have been set up north of Athens. A total of 850,000 people have passed through these centres since the beginning of 2015 (UNHCR figures). Christine Kalogera of the GNTO in the UK says “The migrant crisis is obviously an important humanitarian issue concerning the whole of Europe, but Greek tourism will remain unaffected. Greece continues to offer great value for money holidays for the many British visitors who are looking to enjoy the destination’s culture, gastronomy, beaches and excellent weather.”
7 facts about the migrant crisis in Greece
- Few islands are affected- apart from parts of Chios, Lesvos, Kos, Samos and Symi. There are a total of 7,000 islands in Greece.
- Frontex, the European Border Agency has supplied increased staff to fingerprint and document migrants, the whole system is now working far more efficiently
- The Cycladic islands, like Santorini, Syros, Naxos, Mykonos etc are unaffected. These beautiful islands are hugely popular with visitors
- Most migrants are civilized, well dressed and peaceful. They could be you or I, but for the great misfortune to have been born in a war zone.
- As a visitor to Greece, you may see migrants in temporary accommodation at the port in Pireaus when catching your ferry to the islands. Most migrants wait overnight on the waterfront in tents. Buses take them onwards to locations out of Athens where they wait the paperwork needed to reach northern Europe.
- The terrible images you may have seen on your screen of young men throwing rocks at border police on the Macedonian border were taken from a single incident early in 2016. The temporary camp that grew up on that border has been relocated to a converted army camp.
- Deaths at sea still occur, although there has been a considerable slow down of arrivals by boat from Turkey.
- The generosity of the Greek people on the affected islands has been heartening to watch. Many have had their livelihoods affected by the sudden arrival of thousands of people in need. Yet they continue to bring food and clothing daily down to the water front to welcome the boats.