Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On The Biased Idomeni Perception!

The past 24 hours have made a major impact on my personal assessment of the refugee situation. The way I understood the situation before yesterday was/is: over 10.000 refugees were trapped in miserable camp conditions at Idomeni near the border. The Greek government had arranged for sufficient temporary quarters for refugees in other parts of the country. Most of the refugees refused to accept that offer from the Greek government.

Journalists seem to be all over the Idomeni area. They report on the miserable conditions; on the failed attempt to break a new trail towards Germany; on the sad drowning of two refugees; etc. They do not report on the buses on the Greek side, waiting to take refugees to other, satisfactory temporary quarters.

Yes, I am aware of how desperate - certainly with justification! - these refugees must be. That they are prepared to do just about everything to get to the Promised Land, Germany. But these refugees are not ignorant nor illiterate people. They know how to use iPad's and iPhone's. And because of that, they must be aware of the drama they are causing all over the EU these days.

To remain in contempt of the Greek government's request to move into satisfactory temporary quarters; to provoke a forbidden border crossing which entailed at least 3 deaths; to blast their self-imposed misery into every journalist's microphone --- well, that's not how Hungarian refugees behaved back in 1956.

Perhaps the difference is that Hungarian refugees in 1956 were escaping from Communist bullets behind them whereas today's refugees escape from miserable conditions in Turkey. But still: the behavior of today's refugees now has a smell to it.

Perhaps it is worth noting that the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951 defined a refugee as someone who has reason to fear persecution because of "race, religion, nationality, membership in a certain social group or because of political conviction". War and/or civil war DO NOT qualify for refugee status under the Geneva Convention.

The EU developed its own "Refugee Policy Directive" which addresses those who are not eligible refugees under the Geneva Convention. They are called "subsidiary protection refugees". According to the EU policy, "subsidiary protection refugees" are not entitled to stay in the country. Instead, they are only entitled to temporary residence: one year at first, with another couple of years to be added.

Perhaps someone ought to explain to today's refugees that only a fraction of them qualify for refugee status under the Geneva Convention.


  1. Klaus: your comments on the 1951 convention are inappropriate. Many refugees fleeing war are covered by the convention, which was originally devised by the West not to protect war refugees but as an ideological policy against the Soviet Union. Of course, it had its origins in the interwar years, and this root means that it is difficult for courts to ignore the context.

    Moreover, across the EU there is no proper implementation of the 1951 convention, with great variation from 1% to 90% granted for similar cases. Guess which couontries obey the law, and which do not. Hint: Hungary does not.

    As for the subsidiary protection, this is common to the entire world and based on regional instruments. Every continent has them. Why regional? Because the USA has blocked all world policies for decades. IN Europe, it is the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU asylum policy (following the UN convention and the ECHR).

    So no, it is not appropriate to tell hte Syrian and other war refugees anything. What should we tell them? That Europe is such a fucked up mess that we have no coordination, no coherent policies, no compassion, yet we pretend to respect the rule of law? Everything that is going on is illegal -- with the possible exception of Greece. Strangely, the rest of the EU is determined to argue that Greece is the only country breaking the rules. It is just propaganda, and shame on you for posting such things.

    1. Inappropriate or not, I quoted from the Geneva Convention. And believe you me, smart lawyers will quote a lot better than I will ever be able to.

    2. No. The 1951 Convention (which is not the Geneva convention, although often wrongly called it) has to be interpreted. Every country interprets it differently. The fact is that war refugees have a right to protection and the right to life under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. No lawyer will dare deny that. Moreover, the right to protection in Europe is under the ECHR as well as the UN conventions.

      The fact is that governments are playing fast and free with the law, because Europe is a mess. Austria in particular, with a foreign minister just out of school, is a disgrace. The problem of refugees in transit to Germany could be resolved by bilateral agreement: if germany refuses then Austria makes that public. On the contrary, Austria chose to act without consulting its EU partners, and seems to be recreating its old Empire in the Balkans. Absolutely disgusting, is all anyone can say. To treat war refugees like pawns in a game of chess is cynical and unacceptable. We do not forget that Austria is the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.

    3. I was afraid that my - objective, as I thought - comments might trigger personal affronts. Bear in mind that I quoted what I heard in TV-discussions among professional judges/lawyers. I cannot claim authority on the subject. But, yes, every discussion participant so far has differentiated between "Convention Refugees" and "Subsidiary Protection Refugees". And they were all in agreement that war refugees did not fit the definition of "Convention Refugees". Incidentally, I quoted the Geneva Convention on the definition of refugees, so I suggest you look it up yourself.

      I agree with you that Austria acted inappropriately. Inappropriately in the sense that it defied all norms of diplomacy by not inviting the two principal parties to the conference (Germany and Greece). That deserves condemnation. My position is that it was right for Austria to call for the conference but wrong not to invite all parties. In the end, the same objective could have been accomplished (stopping the "waiving-through") except there would have been a minority opinion of two.

      Austria was clear from the start that it wanted to provoke EU action through that measure, and EU action did come without delay. The EU, posthaste, supported the action which Austria had taken. So much for that.

      Long before Austria introduced quotas for refugees, Germany had introduced such quotas, except that this was not publicized much. Germany, by the way, has been very inconsistent. On one hand, Merkel deplored the "waiving-through". But when Austria took action to stop the "waiving-through", Merkel offered criticism. The Austrian Chancellor once appropriately asked: "Does the 'waiving-through' only begin at the Austrian border?"

      If the German government really meant what it said, it would take measures to bring the Idomeni refugees directly to Germany. I am waiting for that to happen. In the meantime, I quote the one German who is honest about all of that, Horst Seehofer: "Germany is the major beneficiary of Austria's actions".

      Remember one thing before you bring up Adolf Hitler. Austria has committed to accept 37.500 asylants in 2016 (after 90.000 in 2015). If all EU countries did the same in proportion, the EU could accept almost 2,5 million asylants in 2016. Bear that in mind before you shoot from the hip.

    4. To AnonymousMarch 15, 2016 at 9:48 PM

      I think it is unfair to accuse Austria of imperialism. Austria has actually taken her share of refugees, however, the goverment is hostage to internal political problems. Polls give the neonazi party of the late Jorg Haider to 35%. This forced the socialist Faymann to a 180 degree turn to the crisis. It is understandable, as the last time that FPO under Haider had come to a power position, it had caused much diplomatic troubles for Austria, with isolation from other european countries.

    5. Yes, the FPÖ was a factor but I doubt it was a major factor. For once, the government seemed intent on doing something and, for once, they seemed to believe in what they were doing. That's why they didn't waste any energies with political correctness.

    6. To Anonymous 8:52:
      What should we tell the refugees?
      1) Stay in Syria.
      2) Go to countries with similar religion and cultures, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Arab Emirates. Why couldn't they go e.g. to Saudi Arabia?
      Many alleged refugees are immigrants seeking to illegally move to Europe for financial reasons, e.g. live on German welfare. And in any case, focusing only on the one million who fleed out of a 25 mln population does not address the problem at its root, as it offers no help to the vast majority of Syrians who stayed in their home country.

    7. @AnonymousMarch 17, 2016 at 4:47 PM

      You need to get some facts straight. First, is that millions of Syrian refugees are being accommodated in Lebanon and Jordan -- to the point of threatening the stability of those countries. There are also over 2m in Turkey.
      Second: the richer Arab countries -- the allies and friends of the USA and EU -- refuse to take any. The EU says nothing; the USA says nothing. Both continents continue supplying arms for bombing of civilians in Yemen (by Saudi Arabai) -- which is going to be the next source of refugee flows.

      So, let's have some honesty and accountability here. The West is financing terrorism in the Middle East and also providing the bombs. Greece and Italy are no doing so, and should have no obligation to pay for the refugees that the USA and Europe have created.

    8. @Anonymous 10.20

      There are already well over 1 mln immigrants in
      Greece (legal, illegal, etc), more than 10% of the population. Is there another country with higher percentage?

      "The West is financing terrorism in the Middle East" (talking about getting facts straight). Can you please explain how is EU financing and benefiting from terrorism in Middle East, and exactly which Arab countries that refuse to take refugees are considered allies of the EU?

    9. @AnonymousMarch 18, 2016 at 1:30 PM

      First of all, it is far from clear how many immigrants in total are in Greece. Most of the Albanians left, and come back as migrant workers on short contracts. I doubt that the total number of immigrants even reaches one million.

      If it did reach a million, that would still be only 9% of total population. How many EU countries have immigrant populations exceeding 10%? - most of western Europe does.

      Having said that, I do not consider it good for Greece to be filled with refugees or any other migrants who have no work and are in terrible conditions. The Greek economy cannot sustatain Greeks: clearly it is unacceptable to bring in immigrants or refugees. Yet that is precisely what the EU intends to happen with the so-called plan with Turkey. It is a shame for Europe that the northern EU countries are placing the burden on Greece and doing nothing for genuine refugees.

      If you don't yet know how the western powers have been financing terrorism in the Middle East, then I doubt that anything will permit you to wake up. One of the biggest financiers of terror and open warfare on civilians is Saudi Arabia -- supplied with weapons and war machinery by all of the West. SA directly finances ISIS and other terrorist groups, for its regional political objectives. You will never hear any serious criticism of this despotic state from western governments.

  2. Several points:
    (1)Austria has a very high refugee/population ratio -- partly owing to its receipt of large inflows from its geographical position. It does not have a particularly good reputation in its treatment of asylum-seekers, but it is way above anything in the Balkans.
    (2) Austria has no business holding conferences with non-EU Balkan countries, with or without Germany and Greece being present. This was an attack on the principle of EU solidarity -- basically a disgrace. Such conferences must be organised with the European Commission involved. and other EU member states informed.
    (3) I do not know which particular Austrian lunatics you listen to on tv, but I advise you to ignore them. For most countries there is not a big difference between subsidiary protection and UN protection. I think Austria is one of the problem countries, which tries not to give legal rights under humanitarian protection.
    (4) The recognition rates of Syrians have been around 99-100% for several years. Here are the latest Eurostat data (March 2016) for end 2015:

    198 600 first instance decisions were made by the national authorities of EU Member States during the fourth quarter of 2015. Among them, nearly 60% were positive (i.e. granting a type of protection status) (Table 6).

    Germany, Italy, France and Sweden issued the most total first instance decisions during the fourth quarter of 2015 (100 500, 27 300, 21 700 and 14 900 respectively) (Figure 7. Table 6).

    Most decisions were issued to Syrians (72 400) followed by Albanians (15 500) and Eritreans (12 900) (Table 7).

    Syrians have received by far the highest number of protection statuses in the EU Member States, including protection based on national legislations (71 100 positive first instance decisions, or 98% rate of recognition[5]), followed by Eritreans (12 100, or 93%) and Iraqis (6 800, or 80%).

    1. Thank you for providing more facts on this issue. I am sure other readers will appreciate that. Which lunatic I listened to? It was the only female candidate for the Presidential election next month, Harvard-educated, last position: President of the Supreme Court. A person of unquestioned integrity and professionalism. Never had any party affiliation.

  3. Mr. Kastner,

    The more accurate number is close to 20,000 refugees. And it is not a camp but a tent city.

    I cant say that the government or at least the ministry of defense is not doing anything. I work in an area where a nonfunctioning base will be put to use a holding center. I see army vehicles bring in container homes and various living facilities most probably for the refugees.

    As for the Europeans taking refugees, I cant complain about Austria and Germany who have taken a share. I understand their mentality of not taking anymore refugees. I understand as well the political aspect of the behind the scenes of both these countries pushing Slovenia and Slovakia and Poland to take the hard position as so no more come. Because in reality even if refugees are dispersed throughout the eu we all know that in the end they, the refugees will find their way to Germany/Austria. Because that is where they want to go. But locking these refugees in Greece, regardless of the overall on average good will of the Greek people, it is ticking time bomb. All in the meantime when new pension measures, new tax reforms and restructurings are to be passed as laws.
    These all equate in to personal income reductions once again.

    Sometimes I symbolize Greece as a human that has been tortured and eventually killed and in the meantime its persecutor continue to shoot bullets into the dead corpse. I try to maintain my composure and remember words of the wise. There is not one country in the world who isn't taking a stab at Greece. I am not looking for sympathy, I just have reach the point where I feel I want Greece to be just left alone. Let us find our peace.


  4. I think that it is rather safe to assume that for the UN, the Syrians are refugees.


    Now, the big luck of the Europeans, is that up until now, SYRIZA hasn't brought the situation to the UN Security Council, as several retired greek ambassadors have proposed in the past days.

  5. Dear V.
    I hope it comfort you to know that I and many other Europeans share your sentiments. Let us, together, appeal to the world "leave Greece alone".
    A European

    1. Dear Anonymous March 17, 2016 at 7:51 AM,

      It is indeed comforting receiving messages from fellow Europeans like yourself. Unfortunately the majority of you, and I know most Europeans understand what is really going on, it does not matter. Because it is not the majority of the good willed Europeans making the shots. It is the powerful central minority. And with that in mind, "appealing," as you mention, reminds me of a phrase Kazantzakis said in Zorba the Greek.

      "On a deaf man's door you can knock forever."

      Anyway, thank you for your sentiment. It is much appreciated as it is rare. Be well.


    2. @ V

      I think the "good-willed European" above was just being sarcastic. He actually wants "Greece to be left alone" in the refugee crisis. And, yes, there are "many other Europeans sharing his sentiments". Make no mistake about it.

    3. Hi Nikos,

      Whatever the case, I have been brought up to take things at face value. And if the commenter was being sarcastic or ironically blasting me, well it only proves what kind of a character he/she is. And regardless, I know many fellow Europeans who are indeed concerned for Greece, which his/her comment represents truthfully. Like I said earlier, they are few.


  6. The discussions of the Greek migrant problems, in this blog, mirror the discussions in the Greek public life quite well. Greeks have strong, and very dramatic, arguments to defend the country's actions, or lack of same. There is the alleged German war debt, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, the sins of the former k&k, the virtue of my mother etc.
    I venture that the Greek arguments would have carried more weight if they had been preceded by action. If Greece were to, voluntarily, take in migrants in proportion to Sweden, Germany and Austria, I would be more inclined to listen to their arguments. In fact their arguments would not be necessary, their acts would speak for themselves.

    1. No you wouldn't. You would still call them "Greek migrant problems"; you would still define "proportionality" drawing false comparisons, i.e. solely in the very stict way that suits you; and you would still pontificate on the "overtly" emotional Greek "national character", while all the while "coolheadedly" and "rationally" demanding that we set up huge concentration camps so that it won't get disturbed the (dare I say pampered) lifestyle of those you hold dear.

    2. The fact is that Greece has never given refugee status in any significant numbers or proportions. Asylum seekers were left as irregular immigrants. Italy the same.
      Now, with the collapsed economy of Greece and a failing state system, it should be clear even to German-speaking countries that Greece is not able to cope with, respect the rights of, or accept mass refugee inflows.

      In short, these are not arguments: they are things known as facts. Of course, we do know that facts are very inconvenient things -- especially for those countries with a very dirty and shameful past.

  7. the eurostat report http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database?node_code=migr

    with the title: "First instance decisions on applications by citizenship, age and sex Annual aggregated data" lets one look up questions like this. The dropdown list under DECISION shows you the data by application outcome.

    Total asylum applications rejected in 2015: 279,170
    Total asylum applications leading to one of many protected statuses in 2015: 292,540
    of which:
    -refugee status as per 1951 convention is recognised: 216,835
    -subsidiary protection status: 54,000
    -humanitarian protection status: 21,705

    you can use the same report to see how the different protection status is awarded based on citizenship of applicant. For example for Syria, across the EU-28
    1951 Convention Refugee status: 126,775
    subsidiary protection: 27,045

    So for syria, rougly 70% of accepted applicants applicants get convention refugee status (it's much higher in some countries, such as Germany).

    It varies a lot according to the individual country characteristics.

  8. I wouldn't dare to be sarcastic or ironic in Greece, it is much frowned upon.

  9. #leavegreecealone. Your wish is our command.

  10. If you are not a migrant (or Greek) the expected chaos at Idomini is hilarious. It would have been easy to prevent the camp from growing, another thing is relocating the migrants now they are there. The government saw a chance of keeping the migrants there as hostages, exposing the cruelty of Europe and the arch enemy Macedonia. Unsurprisingly some of the migrants tried to cross the border.
    The fall out and the rumors are fantastic, even for Greece.
    The reporters are swarming all over the place, waiting for a gung ho, or afraid, border guard to loosen a shot, preferably fatal. The last figure I saw on print (in this blog)was 20.000 migrants in the camp, verbally figures up to 30.000 are mentioned. The interior minister describes it as a modern Dachau, and blame it on the closed border. Greece considers diplomatic action against Macedonia because they returned the migrants. Although Macedonia has the right to do so, Greek politicians claim "they did not consult with us". Several news media claim that the border crossing was planned by a former German minister. The Greek media, being strangers to police violence, claim that the migrants were beaten in Macedonia. A Greek deputy minister get fed-up with political correctness and use the M name. The defense minister (yes, the one who has been sprayed with chemicals) demands his resignation, he further threaten with leaving the government and call in the leaders of the armed forces for consultations. A member of ND asks for public hanging and offer to personally help. Venizelos talks about Greek national heritage, honor and national interests. The PM mumbles something about inhuman conditions, it is not clear if he is talking about the migrants or Greek pensioners. Nobody find the outbursts strange, in spite of the facts that the defense minister has used the M name several times in TV interviews and the PM has signed an EU document where the name was used. A Greek friend of mine tells me (confidentially) that it's all about the oil and the gold mines.
    The reform negotiations stall, and the migrant problem went off the rails before the train started. Not to worry, the above circus should be enough to distract from the utter incompetence and stupidity.

  11. It's somewhat ironic, few of the signatories to the Geneva and other treaties regarding migrants, would sign them today in their present form. But, out of political correctness, none of them dare call for an updating of them. Very few of the 10 commandments are suitable for the world we live in today, things change.
    The migrant treaties were not written to deal with voelkerwanderungen.
    The Admiralty Law (or UNCLOS) were not written to deal with people who deliberately jeopardize their life at sea.

    1. The 1967 Protocol on Refugees (forming part of the 1951 Treaty but not accepted by Turkey) is designed for modern refugee problems. The Law of the Sea was written for all cases of imperilment at sea: the sanctity of life is the premise. Doutbless, other people's lives are of no interest to you. Yours is the only one worth worrying about.

      While you're at it, why not denounce the Ten Commmandments? After all, there is no money to be made out of them -- they cannot be important any more.

  12. You can do whatever you wish, regarding the 10 commandments, personally I have no use for them. They are unique to the Judeo-Christian faith and not universal, people who don't believe in them are not lesser human beings.
    If I require legal guidance I look for the applicable laws. When I need moral guidance I have found that the 4 ancient Hellenic virtues work better for me.
    PS. To show hospitality by inviting the poor and needy into the home is a noble thing, provided it is your own home.

  13. Sunday saw Macedonia defend their border with teargas, against hundreds of migrants who wanted to tear down the border fence. The Greek police were watching, with interest, the debacle happening on their turf. Monday saw Greek politicians of all hues condemning the cruelty of the Macedonians, including diplomatic protests.
    PS. Sunday (and I) also saw Greek riot police defend Karaiskaki Square with tear gas, against right wing demonstrators.