The failure of the American press to report a human tragedy engulfing Greece should appall us. An average of 200 illegal migrants land in Greece daily and another 20 drown enroute.
According to its Mayor, Chios, an island of about 50,000 population, must cope with about 8,000 refugees with no place to put them.
This situation repeats itself in all the Aegean islands facing Turkey. In the run-up to the recent elections, the Samaras Government tried to outflank, Golden Dawn, the anti-immigrant right-wing party, and loudly rounded up all illegal immigrants it could find, filling every detention center in Greece to overflowing.
The ploy did not work. Golden Dawn took third place in the elections.
Worse, the overcrowding in the detention centers created conditions so terrible that Greece not only earned international condemnation but the European Human Rights Commission fined it about one million euros a month.
The Mayor told us that had the SYRIZA Government not released all but a few migrants from the camps, he would have done so unilaterally himself.
A few migrants have enough cash to book passage on a ship or plane to the mainland but new arrivals outnumber the departures. The rest wander around Chios begging and cadging the odd job.
The Church and local residents give them enough food and clothes to ward off starvation and exposure and many have squatted in old and dangerous abandoned buildings.
The EU’s insistence that Greece do away with municipal police as an economy measure has further reduced the Chios Municipality’s already limited tools to deal with the crisis.
To rub salt in the wound, the EU, citing the “barbaric conditions” in the camps, stopped payments to Greece programmed to maintain the detention centers.
In a classic “catch-22” situation, the United Nations Human Rights High offered to support the Greek government’s release of migrants only if Greece first finds the money to set up an alternative relief program.
Italy faces the same challenge, with almost 150,000 migrants having landed on its shores in 2014 and larger numbers expected in 2015.
Italy has also taken advantage of its Schengen visa-free status; it looks the other way while tens of thousands of illegal migrants cross through its uncontrolled borders with France and Austria.
Greece, although a Schengen member, has no land borders with another Schengen country so migrants must make their way by sea to Italy first or put themselves in the hands of human traffickers to cross the Balkans.
Recently, we have seen reports of migrants drowning at sea near Lefkada heading out of Greece! EU rules call for all migrants found anywhere in Europe to return to the country of first entry (usually Greece and Italy) but fortunately cannot catch them fast enough.
Italy has gotten most of the world’s press attention because 500 migrants drowning in a single accident makes better copy than five drowning in one hundred separate accidents.
The 300-mile sea journey from Libya to the Italian coast forces human traffickers to use big boats with lots of potential victims.
Their Turkish counterparts load the migrants twenty at a time on to small fast boats (apparently assisted by the Turkish coast guard) for journeys never more than twenty miles. Boats still sink but ten drowned women and children do not make for compelling images for the international press.
The Italians made a valiant effort to save lives, putting their Navy on a war footing (Operation Mare Nostrum) to intercept, turn back or save drowning migrants. Like the Greeks, the Italians ran out of money and begged their fellow Europeans to help.
Northern Europe responded magnificently. The European border control agency “FRONTEX” replaced “Mare Nostrum” with a budget to cover Italy, Greece and Malta of three million euros a month, roughly one-fourth of what the Italians alone were spending.
Northern European states assigned one (1) helicopter and three (3) warships to replace the twenty plus ships and helos of the Italian navy. Furthermore, FRONTEX announced that it would confine its patrols to less than thirty miles from the Italian coast.
By contrast, “Mare Nostrum” patrolled to the Libyan coast and the Greek coast guard (which holds FRONTEX in disdain) patrols right up to Turkish territorial waters.
When asked why the change in policy, the head of FRONTEX and a number of northern European politicos responded that the Italians were encouraging illegal migration by saving shipwreck victims.
The Europeans argued that allowing large numbers to drown will discourage others from making the attempt.
That calculation didn’t work. Most of the migrants figured that a one in ten chance of drowning at sea beats a one hundred percent chance of death from starvation or violence if they stayed put.
Almost two thousand migrants have drowned so far this year, split between Greece and Italy. The resulting international outcry embarrassed even the most shameless northern European politicians and the EU called a summit.
The EU mountain labored mightily and brought forth a mouse. The meeting tripled the FRONTEX budget to a paltry nine million euros monthly and appealed for more ships. So far, northern Europe politicos will not risk any more of their brave young sailors in the balmy Mediterranean.
Clearly, Europe united for business but not to defend its borders. During the 1998 Imia Crisis, the EU walked away from any commitment to defend Greece’s borders.
Without President Bill Clinton’s intervention that situation would have degenerated into all-out war between Greece and Turkey. Now, the northerner Europeans have made it equally clear that guarding Europe borders against a wave of human misery is an Italian and Greek, not a European, responsibility.