World Refugee Day: Greece sets the right example

Nicholas Tomaras, Pericles Fellow, HALC

Over the past two years, more than 1.3 million people fleeing persecution and conflict passed through Greece in search of safety and a better life in Europe. Greece’s response to the crisis has been nothing but exemplary. Greeks of all walks of life, struggling through a deep economic crisis, opened their arms and demonstrated to the world the true meaning of philoxenia and philotimo.

Ordinary Greeks, unfazed by six years of economic hardship, continue to demonstrate astonishing generosity toward refugees and migrants arriving on their shores. UN figures indicate that Greece is currently hosting 61,287 refugees, most of whom are women and children. As a result, the nation’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the international community. Greek islanders were nominated for the Nobel peace prize in 2017. Moreover, the short film 4.1 Miles about a Hellenic Coast Guard captain on the Greek island of Lesbos was nominated for an Academy Award in early 2017.

Despite the increased awareness, the international community — Europe in particular — has failed to demonstrate solidarity and shoulder the burden. The European Union pledged to relocate 63,302 refugees from Greece in 2015. Only 14,559 have been relocated thus far. Additionally, the majority of the asylum experts that the EU pledged to Greece have yet to arrive. As a result, thousands of refugee women and children remained stranded on overwhelmed Greek islands, living “in limbo” as they await the results of their asylum applications.

It is now more important than ever, on World Refugee Day, to consider these figures and recognize the humanity shown by Greece and its people. Greece may be a small country, but it has carried an enormous burden, selflessly welcoming those in need.

Pope Francis summed it up perfectly during his visit to Lesvos last year: “Greece has been an example of humanity.”