Migrants see Greece as a transit gateway country. If they stay, it’s only for a lack of options or because the EU has yet to take responsibility in a tragic episode of global upheaval.
A Turkish official on Sunday evening refuted Greek claims that only 73 migrants have crossed into Europe so far, providing footage to the contrary.
Over 100,000 migrants have crossed into Greece and Bulgaria since Friday, according to a statement by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Sunday.
This comes amid draconian Greek border police crackdowns, firing tear gas on refugees seeking to make their way into Europe in pursuit of a better life.
But if the number isn’t based on a clerical error, what could be driving the significant underreporting of migrant asylum seekers in Greece?
It all comes down to economics, and a skewed public perception of the costs refugees entail.
Greece is currently headed by the New Democracy (ND) centre-right party headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who defeated the far-left Syriza populists and their leader, Alexis Tsipras. Analysts warned however, that he may be as much a populist as his predecessor.
Human Rights Watch indicates that migrants consistently find Greece hostile, xenophobic and dangerous to refugees. Those who do choose to stay in Greece, often suffer low wages and poor working conditions, in addition to being treated as second-class citizens where rights and social welfare are concerned.
Xenophobic far-right groups are vocal in demonising and scapegoating refugees for high unemployment and a flagging economy that suffered successive austerity measures long before the refugee crisis began.
But do their views reflect reality?
In 2015, more than one million people sought international protection from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, entering Greece through Turkey. In 2015, the number of sea arrivals to Greece from Turkey amounted to 856,723, while the first six months of 2016 saw it drop to 155,989.
Today however, out of more than one million people who have entered Greece since January 2015, only 57,000 remain in the country. In a country of 10.74 million, that’s only 0.005 percent.
Even the 57,000 asylum seekers aren’t in Greece by choice, but ‘trapped’ there following an EU agreement that saw any refugees who arrived after March 20 2016 put into detention facilities. But nearly 46,000 arrived before the cut-off date and should have been repatriated to hosting countries.
For years, however, they’ve remained in pre-departure detention facilities as they wait for their case to be assessed.
The migrant asylum seekers in Europe are a far cry from Turkey’s hosting of over four million refugees, in spite of popular resistance to the idea.
But it may all be rooted in skewed populist misconceptions, and partly, the EU’s inaction on the refugee crisis. In 2015, EU member states received 1,255,640 first-time asylum applications. Only 333,350 were accepted. By 2016, total asylum applications had reached 2.7 million. But even then, only 5,651 migrants were relocated from Greece by September 2016.
Critically enough, research shows that migrants only see Greece as a transit gateway, and by no means their final destination.
Eighty-one per cent of all applications for asylum went to Germany (35.2 percent), Hungary (13.9 percent), Sweden (12.4 percent), Austria (6.8 percent), Italy (6.6 percent) and France (5.6 percent).
EU countries granting protection to the highest number of asylum seekers were Germany (148,200 people), Sweden (34,500), Italy (29,600) and France (26,000).
The Greek police crackdowns on refugees at borders seem to be motivated by fears of refugees coming to stay. If migrants do settle however, it’s only for a lack of options, and because the EU as a whole has yet to formulate, and more importantly act on, a proper strategy to bear its share of responsibility in a tragic episode of humanity’s displacement and upheaval.