Migrant hot spots fuel new rows in Greece

Migrant hot spots fuel new rows in Greece

It is true that eating pork chops and drinking beer are among the favorite habits of the Greeks, especially in the form of open-air social gatherings. It is something like pork sausages and beer in the outdoors for the Germans or pork-pies for the British in their favorite pub on Sundays.

But nobody would have imagined that such a traditional culinary occasion chosen by some hot-headed Greeks from the region of Macedonia would have blown such a blazing row among Greece’s recently elected parliamentarians.

This hot-headed group who emerged recently from nowhere and called themselves “United Macedonians” quickly made their voices heard throughout the Greek media. They do not make any effort to hide their distaste toward anybody who is not Greek and coming from the east wanting to go to the west via Greece. For them, almost everybody is an illegal migrant and their lifestyle, faith and culture are utterly alien to the Western values.

So, they decided to express their anger in an unusual way aiming at a couple of thousand migrants and refugees housed in the camp near the town of Diavata. Diavata (Dudular in Ottoman times) is just a few kilometers from Thessaloniki next to the main motorway. There, a former army camp houses host impoverished young and older people in squalid conditions, whole families in a desperate state, waiting under tents to be sent to Europe or back to their countries. Next to the camp, the United Macedonians announced that they would throw a barbeque gathering with pork meat and beer.

This unusually daring event which will take place this Sunday, Nov. 10, has been announced proudly by the organizers on all media platforms. The United Macedonians invited everybody to “join their barbeque-protest against illegal migrants, with plenty of pork meat and consumption of alcohol.”

In a lengthy proclamation, they describe their action as “resistance against Muslim migrants who are falsely entering Greece aiming at changing the demographics and the culture of Europe assisted by hypocritical NGOs and selective pseudo-charities.”

The idea of consuming pork and drinking alcohol next to a refugee camp mostly hosting Muslims caused fierce political debate. Some government deputies half implying that “there is nothing so wrong in that,” and that “we cannot deny our traditions” and with a deputy from the leftist main opposition party calling the event “an act of sadism and brutality against people of a particular faith.”

In the end the veteran politician and sister of the present prime minister, Dora Bakoyannis, had to intervene to save the face of the ruling party center-right New Democracy, by saying that “some of our younger deputies did now know what they were talking about.”

I do not know what will happen on Sunday afternoon in this historical town whose name after the population exchange in 1923 Ionia as Greeks from Erzincan were resettled there, and where local people still call it Ionia. Will they join the barbeque?

Ionia has been living with the presence of refugees for the last three years. Until recently, the Diavata camp had not caused any severe problems to the inhabitants. But the situation changed last summer. The migrant flow increased dramatically from the Aegean, and more migrants were sent to the already asphyxiating hotspot near the borders. There was no room for more and unregistered migrants started wandering in the town. Cases of criminality started becoming frequent. People became worried. The new government did not give them satisfactory answers.

Finally, the inhabitants of Diavata decided to stage a protest. Interestingly, they too will demonstrate this weekend. They say that they have nothing to do with the “United Macedonians,” but they are desperate. “On one hand we have the human side, with freezing people living in tents in the mud and on the other, migrants in our town without enough police protection,” they say.

There is no doubt that Greece is being left to deal with the migrant problem with little help from Europe. European countries prefer not to hear Greece’s pleas for help. Instead, they have given almost one-and-a-half billion euros as aid to Greece, through a network of NGOs who have by now acquired a lousy name accused of ill-organization or even corruption.

Mitsotakis’ new government chose to make things harder for the migrants. A bill passed last week aims at curbing the numbers arriving mainly from Turkey. The opposition and human rights organizations much-criticized it for making the screening process more difficult for genuine asylum seekers.

Also, to decongest overcrowding in the camps in the Aegean islands opposite Turkey, the Greek government started transferring thousands of migrants/refugees to the mainland. It is that second part of the new policy that has turned the population of the mainland angry. It is not what they had promised to them during the election campaign.

On the contrary, the New Democracy party had pledged for renegotiations with Turkey for a speedier process of screening and repatriation. Nothing has happened. And worse, the rural people of the mainland were the voters of New Democracy in both local and general elections this year.

Finally, are we to take a tragicomic event like the “anti-Muslim barbeque” seriously? Should we worry about a new nascent trend of nationalism in the part of Europe closest to Turkey?