Guest post by Stella Nanou, Communications/Public Information Associate, UNHCR Greece. This post is the second installment of the Border Criminologies Themed Week on the Migrant Crisis in Greece organised by Angeliki Dimitriadi.

Lately Greece has been experiencing several crises that are featured regularly in the media headlines. One of these, what has been often labeled as a ‘migrant’ crisis, is in fact a ‘refugee’ crisis. It’s a crisis because the numbers have soared, overstretching the resources and infrastructures on the Greek islands, despite efforts by local authorities and civil society actors. It’s a ‘refugee’ and not a ‘migrant’ crisis because the vast majority of people who’ve reached Greece this year in overcrowded, rickety boats come from places experiencing war and human rights violations, and are fleeing for their lives and not simply for a better life. The numbers speak for themselves: eight in ten people who have reached Greece so far this year come from Syria or Afghanistan, the two biggest refugee source countries worldwide, according to UNHCR’s latest global statistical report.

Albeit a crisis, the phenomenon of refugee flows in Greece isn’t new or unexpected. Towards the end of 2012, more robust surveillance systems and a 12 kilometer fence along the Greek-Turkish land border resulted in a shift from land crossings to the North and South-Eastern Aegean Sea. Since 2013, there has been acceleration with 43,500 arrivals in 2014 and 68,000 so far this year, surpassing for the first time the number of arrivals in Italy. This should come as no surprise―the UNHCR had sounded the alarm last year. The growing numbers in Greece, a country at the external borders of the EU and very close to regions of crisis and conflicts, echoes the sharp escalation of displacement at a global level: the highest number of people ever recorded, almost 60 million, half of them children, have been forced to flee their homes due to war or persecution. This translates to one in every 122 humans. And the main reason behind this increase has been the war in Syria, now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement.

Photo: UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis
Many Syrians who arrive today on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Kos, Leros, Chios, and Samos had found temporary shelter in countries neighboring Syria (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey), hoping that they could one day go back home. But with the war in its fifth year and no solution in sight, most of the Syrian refugees realize that they cannot live in a camp for the rest of their lives. They decide to move further, into Europe, to make a new start in safety and dignity. At the same time, the exodus of Syrians from North African countries towards Europe becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous, thus the eastern Mediterranean route through Greece seems the only viable option.
I remember a media report in which the journalist was asking one of the survivors of a deadly shipwreck off the Greek island of Rhodes, at the end of April, why he’d chosen to come to Europe in this dangerous way. ‘Do you have another way? Give me another way and I will follow it,’ responded the young man from Syria. These words are illustrative of the despair of people who will move in any case because it’s a matter of life and death, not a choice. But it also shows the dire need to create legal routes so that people fleeing to survive don’t have to resort to smugglers and dangerous sea voyages, often at a very high price, which can even be their own lives.
Yet any solution for the refugee crisis in Greece cannot be sought solely at a national level. While Greece should definitely undertake urgent steps to better manage the arrivals and ensure that the rights and dignity of the refugees are respected, Europe needs to adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach, encompassing the principles of humanity and solidarity. In practice, this would mean increased possibilities for legal movement within the EU through relocation schemes, so that refugees don’t need to go once again underground, endangering anew their lives and dignity, in order to reach a place where there are greater prospects for integration or where they might have family members. This is exactly what happens today at the Greek-FYROM borders, where hundreds of Syrians, Afghans, Africans, and Iraqis, including families with young children, expose themselves to hardship and a series of risks, in their efforts to set foot on other European countries.
The recent EU decision to relocate 40,000 people in need of international protection from Greece and Italy and to resettle 20,000 refugees in third countries is a positive step, but more needs to be done, not least by addressing the root causes pushing people to flee. In the meantime, it would be unwise to give into easy or oversimplified solutions to a complex crisis that does not and should not concern only Greece.
Themed Week on the Migrant Crisis in Greece:

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Nanou, S. (2015) Greece’s Other Crisis [is Europe’s Crisis]. Available at: (Accessed [date]).