In a year when nearly 3,000 people have drowned crossing the Mediterranean, mostly heading to Italy, we’ll take this as good news. The Washington Post reports:
The unimpeded flow of humanity, dominated by Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, to Europe is over, at least for now. Arrivals in the Greek islands are down 97 percent.
The problem is that the report also confirms something we wrote about in June: that even as the EU-Turkey deal deters crossings, it’s breaking down. In fact, both are happening for the same reason—the EU-Greek commission overseeing the hearings is refusing to repatriate anyone who protests their deportation. (Though an estimated 500 people who did not protest their deportation have left.) The result is that, un-deported but unable to carry on further into Europe due to a series of now well-guarded borders in the Balkans, tens of thousands refugees and migrants languish in a no-man’s land of miserable camps in Greece:
“You check in but you never check out,” sang Mohammed, who, like most asylum seekers, declined to give his full name because he was criticizing the system charged with deciding his fate.
Some 42,000 asylum seekers are stuck in grim camps on the Greek mainland, according to the United Nations.
An additional 8,000 are spread throughout the Greek islands, with about 3,000 on Lesbos.[..]
Human Rights Watch visited the Reception and Identification Center in May and found chaotic conditions: toilets flooded, poor food, the overcrowded facility filled with angry, sometimes drunken men, fighting over their spots in lines, harassing the women and trying to enter their tents.
On Lesbos and the other islands, riots have broken out, with fires set as groups of foreign nationals — Afghans vs. Pakistanis vs. Syrians — set upon each other while the police withdrew to the safety of their fortified freight containers.
You can see why no one would pay a smuggler thousands and risk drowning just to wind up in a camp like this (and why those who have, resent it.) So it’s deterrence, in a way, and after two years when the Aegean has been a graveyard, that’s a welcome respite.
But you can also see how inhumane and inherently unstable this arrangement is. The pause in the crisis at sea should give some time and breathing space to help fix that, starting with a mix of human-rights measures—fixing the camps is vital—and enforcement measures, such as finally starting repatriations.
But unfortunately, the bigger strategic framework of the EU-Turkey deal is still also unstable. Greece is a mess (and this isn’t helping.) The Turkish government is increasingly autocratic and erratic, while the EU and Europe’s national governments are suffering several concurrent political crises related to immigration. And Syria, the ultimate source of so many of the refugees, is still in flames. This is a breathing space—not the end of the crisis.