In recent years Greece has become the main illegal migration-route into the EU. Its border controls have been lax and its asylum-processing system slow and questionable (the approval rate for asylum applications is tiny compared with other EU countries). Hundreds of thousands of foreigners are adrift in a semi-legal limbo, sleeping rough in Athens or in ports from which they hope to get to Italy. Greek xenophobes are beating up immigrants. Traditionally a country of emigrants, Greece is unready for a mass influx.
About 47,000 crossed the border last year. “They do not have any documents,” says Colonel Georgios Salamagkas, police chief in the town of Orestiada. “All the white people say they are from Palestine. All the Africans say they are from Somalia. They know we cannot send them back to those countries.” Most immigrants are trying to pass through Greece to reach richer countries.
Greece’s crisis is Europe’s problem. Frontex, the EU border agency, has deployed a rapid-response team—including border guards, dog-handlers and interpreters—to help. The flow has reduced, partly because the Turks are co-operating. But no sooner has one gap tightened than another is reopening on the Mediterranean. Some 5,000 immigrants, mostly young men, have arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Italy stroppily accuses the EU of doing too little. Political oppression may push people to flee, but the end of dictatorship in Tunisia has also lifted an obstacle. Events on Lampedusa must alarm all EU countries about the popular revolts across the Middle East.This is just a reminder that even if events in one part of the world might have few underlying demographic roots, they can generate significant demographic responses nonetheless.