Punish the smuggler or reward the smuggler? Recent refugee arrivals in Greece
Media coverage of the refugee situation in Greece focuses heavily on the Syrians and secondarily on Afghans and Iraqis. While these are indeed the three most highly represented nationalities among asylum seekers in Greece, the past six to twelve months have seen a gradual shift.
Fast forward to 2017, taking the period from 10 May to 27 June 2017, a total of 982 asylum seekers reached the island of Lesvos. The top nationalities were: DRC (202), Syria (160), Iraq (116), Afghanistan (61). The rest were from Iran, Kuwait (Bidoon), Palestine, Guinea, Eritrea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Yemen, Togo, Gambia, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Sudan and Nigeria. One person each came from Bolivia, Cuba, South Africa, Haiti and Uganda. Similar trends are noted on the other islands which act as the entry point to Greece.
Those of us acquainted with Moria reception and identification centre in Lesvos have noticed the nationality change among the new arrivals over the last two years: many more Africans and less Arabs. Groups of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are still coming grouped together, while Africans from different nationalities arrive in different groups with other nationalities. The smuggling fees vary according to nationality.
One may wonder why people from Africa, whether northern or sub-Sahara, take the route to Europe through Greece, rather than the intuitively more direct route to Italy or Spain. A look at flight routes and visa regimes provides the answer. One may reach the Greek islands from as far away as central Africa, using Turkish Airlines, a Turkish visa and a smuggler picked at Istanbul airport or the Aegean coast, for less than 1,500 dollars total.
Turkish Airlines has 200 destinations worldwide and at reasonable prices. For example, one way flight from Kinshasa to Istanbul costs 833 dollars, Abidjan to Istanbul, 709 dollars and Casablanca to Istanbul 458 dollars.
Secondly, visas for Turkey are generally easily obtained. From the nationalities arriving in Lesvos in June, all except Cubans and Palestinians, depending on where they were registered, are exempt from any visa requirement or need only an electronic visa, easily obtained online for the cost of 20 dollars.
Eritreans are often rejected asylum seekers from Israel, deported to Rwanda with cash, which they use to escape again through the Aegean route. Women from the Dominican Republic are usually trafficked to Turkey and once they manage to escape to Greece, seek assistance to return to their country. Citizens of sub-Saharan Africa come from a number of conflicts in the region, both internal and cross-border, including purges in the DRC and the Boko Haram. North Africans face chronic instability in their countries.
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