The Syrian Refugee Crisis is nothing new to the international community. Yet, it has seemingly disappeared from mainstream media in recent years. The crisis has been overshadowed by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. presidential election, and other international issues such as Brexit. However, the European Union is still struggling to take in more refugees as the Syrian Civil War rages on. The largest inflow of refugees, mostly into Turkey, has created tensions with its neighbor Greece as refugees attempt to head farther west into Europe. Many refugees attempt to cross into France, the United Kingdom, or Italy, far from Greek or Turkish borders. This has resulted in many European countries passing conservative legislation on refugees, making it more difficult for them to pass through Europe and integrate into European society. Despite the hardline stance, countries still uphold human rights by granting asylum to those refugees who apply. With the election of a new conservative Prime Minister in Greece and increased Turko-Greek tensions, the maltreatment of Syrian refugees fleeing from Turkish waters into Greece has caught media attention.
In order to understand the current situation at hand, it is important to acknowledge the political environment within and between Greece and Turkey. Greece’s new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was elected last July as Prime Minister, leader of the the central-right New Democratic Party. In addition, the party has typically pushed for more intense and drastic regulations on the entrance of Syrian refugees. In December of 2019, the party worked to crack down on abuses of the asylum system and introduce tougher rules within refugee camps. Prime Minister Mitsotakis, ran on a platform of increasing regulations on Syrian refugee entrance into Greece.
In addition, in February of 2019, Greece became involved in territorial conflicts with Turkey in the Aegean Sea. Around February 20th, 2019, Turkey began to expand territorial claims in the Sea, close to the Greek island of Crete, in hopes of drilling for natural gas. The Syriza party, in power before Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ election did little to reverse the tensions, and by doing so, has placed Mr. Mitsotakis in a tough negotiating position with Turkish leadership. These territorial claims in the Aegean Sea play a crucial role for Syrian refugees, as many use this waterway to cross illegally onto Greek shores. As the Turkish border in the Aegean Sea inches closer to Greece, it has become easier for the Greek Coast Guard to tow refugee boats back into Turkish territory. This, in addition to non-existent political oversight, has led to calls of human rights violations from individuals personally affected and higher exposure to human trafficking for Syrian refugees attempting to cross the Aegean.
The Turkish Coast Guard Command rescues 125 migrants and refugees pushed back into Turkish waters by the Greek Coast Guard in March 2020.
It is because of these gross violations of human rights that the Syrian refugee crisis is still an issue that requires international media attention. According to sources from the New York Times as well as other multinational organizations, well over 1,000 Syrian refugees have been rescued by Turkish authorities after being denied entry into Greek territory via the Aegean Sea. Additionally, it has been reported some of the refugees are robbed of their belongings and sometimes placed into life rafts without propellers or rudders to steer themselves to shore. Although refugees cross the Aegean Sea illegally into Greek territory, many come seeking asylum from Syria, a legal means of entering the country. Mitsotakis’ government has recently cracked down on this in order to prevent false asylum claims. Due to this, Syrian refugees attempting Greece are facing threats to their basic human rights by being left to fend for
It is important to consider the long term implications of non-compliance to international standards of human rights. More recently, on September 9th 2020, the Moria migrant camp in Lesbos, Greece, went up in flames, leaving over 13,000 migrants displaced until the government finds a way to house them. 7 These issues, which raise dramatic questions of access to basic resources such as water, food, housing, and safety, all must be monitored in the coming years.
High costs of running migrant camps, admitting refugees, and ensuring long-term safety of the migrants is an issue that neither the United Nations nor the EU has played a recent role in. It is crucial that continued media reporting of the refugee crisis does not become overshadowed by global events. Syria is still in the midst of a civil war. Many international players, such as Russia and the US, have pulled out and left the local populations to fend for themselves or flee the country in hopes of a better future. Now, more than ever, the Syrian refugee crisis must be given a spotlight and international players should lend aid to countries like Greece and Turkey. Without assistance, nations across Europe will continue to be inundated with refugees and be left with little options to help alleviate this new burden. It is crucial that the international community works together to prevent further issues regarding this crisis to develop.