Greece was the main point of entry for refugees traveling to Europe during the migrant surge of 2015-16. It is connected to Syria through Turkey, and many Syrian migrants travel through Turkey’s borders to Greece. As a result, Turkish authorities announced that they would no longer prevent migrants from crossing into Europe after several Turkish troops died in air strikes in northern Syria. Turkey has long complained about the European Union’s handling of refugees fleeing Syria. In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the border between Turkey and Greece to get the EU to heed Turkish demands to assist Turkey with the crowds of migrants filling the country. Essentially, Erdogan used the growing anti-migrant sentiment in Turkey to block criticism of his Syrian invasion in 2019.
Hearing this proclamation, thousands of migrants rushed to the Greek border, some taking Turkish-provided buses. Once they arrived at the border, it was clear that migrants were not welcome. The Greek Army and police officers met the migrants armed with barbed wire fences, tear gas, and weapons. In addition to physical prevention, the Greek government suspended asylum applications and threatened to deport any illegal entrants. In addition to the government-sanctioned force, Greek citizens established civilian patrols to stop migrants. This citizen action is a reflection of Greek opinions on migration. A Pew Research Center study from 2018 shows that while 69% of Greeks supported accepting refugees from countries where people are fleeing violence, 82% of Greeks said they wanted few or no additional migrants to move to their countries. 74% consider immigrants a burden on their country because they take jobs and social benefits.
Later in March, Turkish police burned down the tents of migrants stuck on the border. They claimed the risk of coronavirus spread as their reason for their actions. In Greece, the arrival of migrants at the border did not seem like a migration crisis, but rather an attack by Turkey to attempt to destabilize the Greek government through migrants. Footage along the order shows Turkish forces firing tear gas back at the Greeks, and Turkish armored vehicles attempting to pull down the border fence.
Migrants, promised freedom from a war-torn country, are instead stuck between two clashing forces. They are being used unjustly as pawns in a broader conflict. As Greece and Turkey attack each other, migrants are quite literally caught in the crossfire. In the broader world context, migrants are often blamed for economic problems within a country. They are seen as a burden, and are treated inhumanely.
Migrants are humans. They are not pawns. They are not objects to throwaway or deem worthless. Their lives have meanings, and that meaning needs to be recognized. Not just by people like you and I, but by governments that make decisions that control their futures.