by Philip Chrysopoulos
It would have been a news report: A few hundred more refugees and illegal migrants were set loose in downtown Athens. The story would read that after their boats sank in the Aegean Sea and were rescued by the Greek coast guard, they were transferred to Athens. They were given legal papers to stay for up to six months and then moved to the country of their choice.
Yet, what would have been a news report, turned into another play in the theatre of the absurd that is the newly established Ministry of Immigration Policy and the statements of Deputy Minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou. Her first decision was to abolish the word “illegal” from every sentence that involves the word “migrant.” Now she has the freedom to call all migrants “refugees.”
After repeated complaints by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis that migrants cannot be simply set loose in the capital’s downtown areas, and after similar complaints by citizens and parliamentary opposition parties, Mrs Christodoulopoulou replied that there are no migrants in downtown Athens.
In fact, the Deputy Minister claimed that she herself walked in downtown Athens and Omonoia Square last evening and she didn’t see any migrants in the streets. In fact she said on national television, answering to the mayor and those who complained, that the migrants they saw were simply out to “catch some sun”(!) But insulting the intelligence of journalists and viewers is the least damage.
The Deputy Minister took it a step further suggesting to journalists that they should stop using the words “illegal migrants” and start using the word “refugees.” So, we have a cabinet member who wants to dictate to journalists how to do their jobs and what they should write. Interesting for a cabinet member who claims she has democratic and progressive views on the immigration issue.
Mrs Christodoulopoulou continued her show by dismissing the figures of United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees who estimated that 500,000 refugees will enter Greece in 2015 by saying that they won’t be more than 100,000. She has probably conducted her own study and knows better. Even SYRIZA’s junior coalition partner ANEL doesn’t feel comfortable with her statements as one ANEL MP said that cabinet members should avoid making statements that verge on the ridiculous.
The complete lack of immigration policy was demonstrated last month when Citizen Protection Minister Yiannis Panousis, in collaboration with the Ministry of Immigration Policy, shut down the Amygdaleza illegal migrant detention centre and set loose over 1,000 migrants in the streets of Athens. During that time, the ambitious Mrs Christodoulopoulou said the migrants will be accommodated in empty state buildings, abandoned military camps and vacant apartments. When asked what if the neighbours of said apartments would complain, she answered that no one will complain. Of course that plan never materialized.
Mrs Christodoulopoulou has often made interesting remarks on the matter. One time she said that she is willing to put up migrants in the ministry building hallways if they have nowhere else to go.
Now Mrs Christodoulopoulou says that the pertinent ministries will convene to come up with a plan to accommodate the waves of migrants, sorry, refugees. Meanwhile she accused the previous government of not building the infrastructure to deal with the matter. All that after deciding that the conditions in the existing detention centres were not humane enough and instead of making them more humane, she shut them down altogether.
Opposition party “To Potami” leader Stavros Theodorakis stated that the Deputy’s announcements are a provocation to Athens residents and the new government’s “open borders” policies and their frivolous and literary approach to serious issues are dangerous and give human traffickers the signal that Greece is a free-for-all country. He also made some caustic remarks about the Deputy calling illegal migrants “refugees.”
Mrs Christodoulopoulou never actually mentioned how crisis-stricken Greece can shoulder the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees who will probably stay in the country forever. It’s easy to say that they will get renewable permits to stay but she never specified how will these migrants will be absorbed by a society with 25% unemployment.
But Mrs Christodoulopoulou wouldn’t let reality spoil such a good humanitarian fairy-tale. So do most of the SYRIZA Ministers who decided on Wednesday to give all necessary legal papers to actual refugees from Syria in order to travel to the destination of their choice.