As Greece’s politicians work to agree on a deal with its European creditors that will keep it from default, and the Greek people struggle with newly-imposed capital controls and an increasingly dire economic situation, thousands of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and African countries continue to land on Greek shores, pressuring an already crippled economy.
Greek newspaper Ta Nea reports that the Coast Guard recorded 35 search and rescue incidents between Friday, June 26 and Monday, June 29. In those incidents, the Coast Guard rescued 1,043 people. Most of these refugees made their way to Greece through Turkey, crossing the Aegean Sea, and landed on a number of Greek vacation islands, including Kos, Rhodes, and Lesbos.
Just as migrants fleeing war-torn countries in Africa cross the Mediterranean illegally with the help of smugglers in Libya, so too do thousands of Syrians fleeing the Islamic State and their nation’s civil war do the same into Greece, hoping to relocate to wealthier European Union countries once established there. The hope of restarting life in a European country has brought thousands to the coasts of Greece, so much so that Greek authorities have described their operations as “overwhelmed” and “paralyzed” by these migrants, for whom the government now has to find money to establish temporary refugee camps with food and water.
Migrants reportedly pay between $1,000 and $10,000 to land in Greece– easily the life savings of any one of them– thus leaving them with no revenue to use to leave Greece and in an economy where finding any job is near impossible, even for the average Greek citizen. Experts estimate Greece’s unemployment rate to currently stand at around 25.6%.
Given the proximity between Greece’s holiday islands and Turkey, the nation’s tourist destinations are the prime targets for migrants, crippling the healthiest industry in Greece. Islands like Lesbos and Kos have been flooded with homeless migrants lining the streets and living under bridges. Lesbos in particular has struggled, receiving 55,000 migrants in 2015 so far. “There are hundreds of people arriving every day. Soon it won’t be manageable… The summer will pass and the damage to the country will be huge,” Periklis Antoniou, the head of the Lesvos Hoteliers Association, told Greek newspaper Kathimerini. “We have a big problem. … They’re causing a lot of damage to the hotel because the clients see this situation, they speak of disease, they speak of dirt … and they’re right. And they say they won’t come back to this place again,” added Giorgos Papageorgiou, a hotel owner on the island. Papageorgiou lamented a high number of cancelations at his hotel, blaming the unsightly congregations of destitute migrants, which the government has little resources to use in aiding.
Tourism officials on Rhodes, another island affected by the migrant crisis, are reporting similar setbacks in the tourism industry. At a meeting of the Rhodes Board of Hoteliers, executives complained that, in addition to the migrants, tourists were now being exposed to extremely long lines of poor Greeks at ATMs, who are allowed to withdraw only $60 a day from their accounts thanks to new national capital controls. Foreign nationals are not subject to these limits, but must nonetheless wait on these lines for access to an ATM. Greek publication Rodiaki notes that Greek hospitality professionals have noticed a surge in Cyprus’s tourism industry, as vacationers wishing to see Greece, Turkey, or Tunisia change their plans to visit a more politically stable place.
The officials, Rodiaki notes, are loudly blaming radical left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for not only establishing the capital controls that have made Greeks as unsightly a spotting as refugees, but for creating a belligerent atmosphere against the European Union that may lead to a Greek default. “Tourism is suffering the consequences of the choice of Mr. Tsipras,” the officials said in a statement, “Some do not realize the obvious: that stability and security in a country are predominant criteria in the choices our guests make.” “Those who consider that tourists are not affected by capital controls, and therefore there is no problem, are obviously in stark opposition to reality and logic,” the statement reads.
Greek negotiators are set to meet with the European Union yet again today, as Greece prepares for a referendum on leaving the euro currency on June 5.
Greek officials have warned Europe in the past that Greece’s economic situation may prove a danger to the rest of the European Union, as the country does not have the resources to stop the influx of refugees or vet the people trying to enter the European Union. “Europe has to realise that by keeping Greece stable, the West’s front against Isis is secure. But if pushed out or forced out of the eurozone… waves of undocumented migrants, including radical elements, will spill in from Turkey, making their way to the heart of the West,” Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said in April.