Tag Archives: Europe refugee crisis

Greece’s Beleaguered Port City

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Aspropyrgos is a busy Greek shipping and industrial center. Along with the imported car parts and electronics come illegal drugs, weapons and contraband cigarettes, as well as violence and nationalistic tensions between locals and immigrants. In a sense, Aspropyrgos is a microcosm of Europe itself, struggling to benefit from the global economy while protecting its identity.

In 1843 magazine, Alexander Clapp follows a scrap metal collector and the relative of a murdered businessman to profile the Greek city and its reputation for lawlessness. Despite a violent strain of nationalism that has taken hold in Aspropyrgos, a Chinese business is now trying to develop it into a railway hub in a potentially lucrative distribution network. If the region is going to benefit from outside investment, someone has to tame the violence.

The economic crisis made the lives of the Aspropyrgians harder than ever before. Relations between Pontic Greeks and Roma grew increasingly hostile, as each group blamed the other for their misfortunes. “Look how lawless they are,” Kostas says of his Roma neighbours. “They leave their trash and their kids everywhere.” Lambros views people like Kostas as intruders. “Nothing bad came in from the sea before they got there,” he says. Into the void left by the emaciated and neglectful state stepped Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that has thrived on resentment of austerity.

Golden Dawn attracts nearly one in three votes in Aspropyrgos. Kostas heartily supports them; so does almost every other Pontic Greek I meet. Many approve of Golden Dawn’s willingness to put the Roma in their place, often through brute force. But even more attractive to Pontic Greeks is Golden Dawn’s veneration of their distinctive identity. By resisting assimilation and maintaining their traditions for thousands of years, the Pontic Greeks affirm Golden Dawn’s central tenet: that the Greeks are exceptional people. They preserve the connection to the era of Hellenic supremacy. While others treat them as interlopers, Golden Dawn elevates them to aristocrats. No other politicians have ever talked to them like this before.

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How Should a German Be?

Rasande Tyskar, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A number of countries, like the United States, have been multiethnic and multireligious since their founding. In the Hapsburg Empire or the Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire, different cultures coexisted under the rule of a tolerant monarch, yet people mostly ate, lived, and married among those of the same ilk. What much of Europe is currently attempting is historically unique. Never before has a democracy that defined itself by its ethnic or religious homogeneity managed to broaden its self-conception and recognize millions of immigrants as members of the nation. No precedent suggests that it can be done.

Germany has become the most important test site in this grand experiment. For decades, the conditions for membership in the German nation were clear and rigid. A true German was a descendant of those brave warriors who roamed the Teutonic woods and intimidated Julius Caesar’s legions — or somebody who could at least pass for one.

There are some signs of change. Immigrants and their children, mostly invisible in the public sphere a few decades ago, are starting to find success in business, sports, music, journalism, and even politics. In the most mixed neighborhoods of the country’s biggest cities, it is starting to seem obvious that a true German might be Asian or African.

In Harper’s, German-born Yascha Mounk details the ways recent Islamic immigration has not only given rise to vocal anti-migrant factions, but challenges many Germans’ core idea of their national identity.

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‘We Love Europa But Europa No Love Us.’

Refugee camp graffiti
Refugee camp graffiti, photo by David Farley (with permission).

Travel writer David Farley spent a month volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece. He wrote about it for Afar. It was not exactly an introduction to the world of good will towards refugees.

Souda briefly gained prominence in November 2016, when it was reported that a right-wing mob stood atop the old city walls and launched large stones and Molotov cocktails down into the camp, setting tents ablaze. Tensions were such that one of the rules of the NGO I was volunteering for stated that once I left the camp, I had to remove my fluorescent green vest and volunteer badge for fear locals would attack me for helping the refugees.

Farley’s piece includes the voices of people we perceive as a generic mass with unified motives.

One day while serving lunch—a tomato and chickpea stew made by a Basque NGO—I met a Syrian named Dallal. He was a new arrival and was aware he might be at Souda for a while. “I don’t understand why we have to wait so long. Some people have been here for nearly a year,” he said. “Our collective goal is that we want a new future, a good future, a safe life. I have a degree in mechanical engineering. My friend here,” he pulled over a 25-year-old from Iraq, “he’s a veterinarian. We’re not poor. We just want a normal life. We are here for survival.”

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The World’s Most Lethal Border Crossing

Europe is “experiencing a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions,” the United Nations warns. Thousands of refugees escaping conflict in Africa and the Middle East are trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. More than 1,900 migrants have lost their lives in its waters so far this year, over twice the amount of people during the same period in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration. Brad Wieners profiled the millionaire husband-and-wife team trying to save them with their own search-and-rescue operation in his April Bloomberg Business cover story “Dying at Europe’s Doorstep.”

That afternoon, and well into the night, he and Regina discussed what Pope Francis, on his first visit outside the Vatican, had described as “the globalization of indifference” to the plight of refugees at sea. “Papa Francesco said that everyone that could help, should do it, [and] with his own skills,” says Regina, who speaks English as well as her native Italian. “So we start to think, what are our capabilities? We have a good background in helping people in trouble.”

As with the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration is a perennial, intractable problem for the coastal states of Southern Europe, but it’s become a full-on humanitarian crisis in the four years since the Arab Spring. In 2014, 218,000 irregular migrants (the inelegant term of art for refugees and those traveling without documentation) tried to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). That’s more than five times the number that tried in 2010. Some are from poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa, simply seeking a better life. Most have fled civil wars and lawlessness in Syria, Eritrea, and Somalia. Last year at least 3,419 died in the attempt, making the Mediterranean the world’s most lethal border crossing.


The ship’s first rescue was on Aug. 30, 2014, about 30 nautical miles from Libya. “You had several boats, including one filled with children that was getting ready to capsize,” says Catrambone. “You had the water coming up—the boat was filling up, the children were screaming and crying, many of them didn’t know how to swim.” Before it was over, more than 100 people were in the drink, floating with the aid of MOAS’s plastic orange life jackets. Once the crew had everyone aboard, they almost ran out of infant formula. “On that day, it went from zero to 358 immediately. And it was no holds barred for the next 20 hours.”

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