Middle Class Migrants

The illicit world interweaves within the legitimate world, where the boundaries meet is uncertain, there are no clear-cut boundaries, no absolute certainties, the world we live in is far more fluid and ambiguous than we imagine. To give an example, on the 2nd January 2015 360 people disembarked in Italy from disembarked from the Ezadeen, a fifty-year old Sierra Leone-registered livestock freighter, they had each paid approximately $5,000 for the trip a total $1.8 million, which ensured a healthy profit for the organisers of the voyage. Italian Admiral Giovanni Pettorino, the operational commander of the Italian coastguard, told reporters that this was, “the third case we have recorded in this last few weeks of a ship abandoned to its fate with hundreds of people aboard”, he added traffickers used “merchant vessels at the end of their life — rust buckets bought for $100,000-$150,000 and then filled with hundreds of ‘migrants’, mostly Syrians.”[1]

The Ezadeen — with migrants

The reporter added a note, “Something else differentiated the Syrians on the Ezadeen from the woebegone, mostly African migrants who reach Lampedusa and Pantelleria. It is perhaps an odd epithet to use, but they looked distinctly middle-class.”[2] In better days many of those on board would have applied for a Schengen visa and spent a few weeks touring Italy, or studying in France, but times change and when your country has fallen apart, is home to the fanatics of IS and their fellows, bombed by Russians, Americans, French and Israelis, you leave, even if you have to travel on an ancient rust bucket of a ship which runs out of fuel in the middle of the Mediterranean. For the people on board the illicit economy had saved them, governments were not interested, they had been left to their unpleasant fate.

I also discussed the issue of middle class migrants recently with someone who had been on Lesbos, Greece. She told me of the sense of entitlement displayed by some of the migrants and the fact that they had plenty of money; for example buying new iPhones in the local shops.

Friction is growing between the Greeks and these arrivals, some of who appear to be agressive in making their demands. In September 2016 nearly 60 percent of the Moria refugee camp, on Lesbos, including tents and metal-roofed cabins, was destroyed by the fire. At least nine migrants were arrested on accusations of damaging property and causing unrest.

The migrant problem in Greece is complex. The Greeks are also victims, which has put a heavy burden on communities, like that in Lesbos, at a time when the economic situation in Greece is very bad and unemployment levels are at record highs. If migrants are seen by locals as being above the law (which is a view held by some Greeks), or make unreasonable demands, this will only exacerbate a difficult situation. Europe is also increasingly reluctant to accept any more refugees, after problems in Germany and Sweden, and the growth of popular hostility to migration. Arguably the European Union, particularly Germany, has handled the situation very badly, and the fact that about two thirds of the people who flooded into Germany in the autumn of 2015 were not Syrian refugees, but economic migrants (mainly young men) from Asia and Africa, undoubtedly made the situation much worse.

[1] Hooper, John — “Refugees give thanks after ‘ghost ship’ Ezadeen rescued in Mediterranean”, The Guardian, 3 January 2015

[2] Hooper, John — “Refugees give thanks after ‘ghost ship’ Ezadeen rescued in Mediterranean”, The Guardian, 3 January 2015

© Andrew Palmer, 2016, http://wp.me/p4vt3y-d0