The railway to nowhere

idomeni_railway_web--2-thumb-large

The Channel Tunnel remains closed for the 4th consecutive week, as migrants from the Jungle refuse to remove their encampment from the railway lines.

French police distributed leaflets urging people to move on, arguing that France loves them, and asking them to fight together British demands for borders to remain closed.

The financial impact for both countries is severe, with businesses suing both state authorities and Eurotunnel for its inability to perform its contractual obligations. Eurotunnel itself is suing both governments. In the meantime tonnes of perishables are rotting away in railway platforms all over the north of France.

What?

Exactly! Wouldn’t you be horrified if you turned on BBC Breakfast and listened to this? You would probably think the French have gone mad, and they are unable or unwilling to control basic aspects of security in their territory. You wouldn’t know which is worse, the inability, or the unwillingness.

Yet, this farcical situation is what Greece has allowed to developed in the border crossing of Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia. This village is the main railway crossing to the north. Tracks go from Greece through the Balkans to Europe via this route. Alternate railway crossings via Bulgaria necessitate a significant detour and cost an alleged extra 6000 Euros per wagon for freighters to reach Austria.

The Greek railways (state-owned) are suffering massive losses due to the line closure that has been going on and off for months, and has been continuously blocked for the last 3 weeks. Freighters are planning to sue the railway company, and the government. Many have diverted cargo through non Greek ports.

What is the problem you may ask? The problem is that refugees and migrants stranded in Idomeni, waiting for the borders to open, have camped on the railway line to put pressure on the Greek and Macedonian authorities to open the border.

What has the Greek government’s response been? To ask them politely to move. Leaflets have been distributed (there and in the port of Pireaus) asking people to move on, stressing the good will and brotherly love of the Greek authorities. The police has largely been absent from the chaotic camp in Idomeni, which is run by charities and NGOs with minimal help (or even the presence) of the Greek state.

Why don’t the Greeks do anything about this you ask? The answer is revealed in the statement of Mr Mouzalas (minister for migration) yesterday in Parliament. Residents of the camp are intentionally left in dire conditions, “so that their desperation leads to positive outcomes for us (Greece)”. Yes, this is what he said. People are left to suffer, in the cold, in the mud, with children catching deadly diseases so that they are convinced by their own suffering to move on. Move on to what? To the ‘reception centers’ where conditions are hardly better (but where is at least food). Mouzalas added that “order will come to chaos”, on its own apparently. Very philosophical for a Parliamentary session.

I described in a previous post why Greece might be sliding towards a Failed State. Syriza and their partners ANEL are doing a good job getting her there.

abandoned train

@iGlinavos

Refugee Crisis: A radical proposal

Greece faces an unprecedented migration/refugee crisis. UNHCR reports that more than 100.000 people have arrived in Greece since the start of 2016 alone. With borders closing upstream (Macedonia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary etc) it is not possible for these people to move on.

Turkey is clearly failing (intentionally or not) to live up to its commitments to stem the migrant/refugee flow. The main contributor to the crisis, the Syrian conflict does not seem to be abating. If anything, it is turning into a regional war, and a focal point of international competition reminiscent of cold-war proxy conflicts.

I had suggested in the summer that Greece should treat the refugee emergency in the same way it would treat an earthquake and mobilise emergency response to house and care for those arriving over the summer. Things have become so much worse since the summer, even such response will not do any more.

It is important to understand one thing, Greece is alone in this. Europe should help, other states should agree to take on significantly higher numbers of refugees. Turkey should do something, other than bomb the Kurds. A lot of things should and could happen but they won’t. What is happening is that Greece will have another million people stranded there over the course of the year. I guess, this will stop when the conflict areas empty of non-combatants, but we are a few million away from that yet.

What can happen is that Europe pays for Greece to care for the people stranded there, while everyone else talks and talks pretending to work towards a lasting solution, or the war in Syria burns itself out. No one likes this? No one does. It is happening, it will happen. Greece being recalcitrant will lead to all these people being stuck there without the funding to care for them. Hear that Mr Tsipras?

If people are to stay in Greece for the medium to long term, where are they going to stay?

Here comes the radical part of this proposal.

pogoni

They can come stay in my home. I come from Epirus, Ioannina in fact. My grandfather is from Meropi (Robates) in the Pogoni region bordering Albania.

The Region of Epirus, located in the northwest of Greece. The total area of the region is 9.203 square kilometers, of which 14% is agriculture land, 52% is covered by grassland, 26% is forest and 3% represents the surface waters, while built up areas and other uses account for the remainder of the land. The 74% of the region, is mountainous areas.

According to the census of 2001 Epirus has a population of 353.820 inhabitants, which represents the 3,3% of the total population of Greece. The population density is 38-inhabitants/ square km, which corresponds to less than a half of the average population density in Greece.

The region of Pogoni has a population of 9000 (2011 census) and a surface of 740km².

meropi

We have been complaining for decades about the depopulation of our villages along the border. Of houses falling down, of infrastructure staying unused. The area is full of villages with houses and no people. With fields and no farmers. People used to live there. They lived there for centuries. They could live there again, rebuild the villages with European funds (blood money if you want to call it that).

What about the people who own the land? The government could lease it from them, it could even expropriate it as a measure of last resort. Indeed the government has already expropriated a lot of it as many up there cannot pay the property taxes. Would we give people’s summer houses over the migrants? Well, yes. Would we create Muslim villages in our border towns and villages? Yes.

Any right-winger nationalist itching to call me a traitor can go ahead, and I hope when their own children flee a war someday they get the same treatment Greece is dishing out to refugees at the moment.

My family was evacuated by the British to Corfu during the civil war. They could have let my grandmother get killed.

Our towns rehoused refugees after the Balkan Wars ended in 1923, they could have refused them. The Greeks from Turkey who fled after the end of the war were as alien to the local population in Epirus as the current refugees are. Do not hide behind nationalist myths of fraternity based on religion and language. They did not recognize each other as kin.

dilofo2

You don’t like giving over our empty villages to the refugees? Where would you like them to go? Walk up and down the motorways till they all die? What will people do up there you ask? They will live in safety, farm the land. It is a better existence than walking to Calais or Berlin and better than being killed by Assad or Daesh. In any case, they will not be imprisoned there, they can leave if they want, but Greece will have done its duty, will have offered them an alternative to a life on the road or death at the hands of the jihadists. I do not make a distinction between migrants and refugees here. They are both fleeing terrible fates.

Come on, lets face reality and start suggesting things. The above is a suggestion, bad one perhaps, but it is a suggestion. If my kids were fleeing a war I would like someone to suggest something like this. Or perhaps us living in London or Paris do not expect to survive the next war.

Ok, I do not currently live in the areas I recommend are given over, but I will give up my summer house and inheritance entitlements if need be. What would you give?

@iGlinavos

Syria: Why Cameron and Corbyn are both wrong

Stone-Age

How do you bomb back to the stone age people who already live in the stone age (with Toyotas of course)?

This week a great debate has taken place in the UK, as to whether Britain should join with France, the US, Russia (and everyone else for that matter) in bombing Syria. The UK is already involved in military action against Daesh, but they have been attacking targets in Iraq, not within Syria.

Cameron, the PM, in Parliament has argued for authorisation to expand a bombing campaign to include targets within Syria, trying to convince MPs that this is necessary in order to safeguard national interests.

Corbyn, the new leader of (old, so very old) Labour has failed to fall in line and back the plan. He argues that the PM has not made a convincing case on how a Syria expedition will help make the UK safer, and also complains that there is no plan for Syrian reconstruction after the (hoped) defeat of Daesh.

They are both wrong. Cameron in fact has made no convincing case that bombing Daesh will make the UK safer, at least in the short to medium term. He also has no idea what to do about Syria (no-one does). British action against Daesh directly will probably increase the chances of a retaliatory attack in the UK (Paris style perhaps).

Corbyn is wrong in saying that a comprehensive plan is needed before engaging Daesh directly. He is also wrong on the security issue in the long run. Britain will not be safer if Daesh establishes a long lasting caliphate.

Should the UK then join in the Syria fight?

I think bombing alone (never-mind with or without Britain) will not defeat Daesh. Everyone is doing it already, with gusto after the Paris attacks. More bombing is likely to be of little strategic value.

I also think bombing will increase the security threat to the UK. To make matters worse, we do not know what to do about Syria and while we are trying to work something out, bombing in itself does not offer a path to a solution.

Nonetheless, I think Britain should join in.

A united western front against Daesh is important in terms of symbolism. Joint action may lead to a ground assault where everyone collaborates to defeat Daesh on the ground. Turkey’s actions last week (downing the Russian jet) makes this more difficult, but everything is possible.

Britain is a key component of NATO, a key European defense partner. It is not possible that it passes on the war on Daesh. Parliament should vote to authorise action, despite the numerous problems with that choice.

Does this sound too George Bush? Too War on Terror? It probably does. Maybe we are beginning to see things like the Americans did after 9/11. There is a difference though, Daesh claimed the Paris attacks as many others. It has a geographical presence and a territory under its control we can wage war against. This is not another Iraq invasion.

Will innocent people die? Yes, inevitably. Is this blood on our hands? Yes, probably. Why am I proposing that we do it then?

Let me ask you this, firstly, if Cameron does not act and there is another attack in the UK, wouldn’t you immediately advocate action against Daesh? Do we need to wait for them to attack us in order to act?

Secondly, if democratic states run by legitimate governments do not react to significant threats like Daesh now, who do you think will be calling the shots after the next election? Hollande is doing everything he can think of both due to the threat that Daesh represents for France and Europe and because of the threat of Le Pen winning the presidency.

Corbyn’s pacifism is great and principled, but if the public feel threatened they will vote for those who promise security, and they may well be fascists. We do not have FN in the UK, but we could, and if this keeps up, we will. Do you think that if Le Pen replaces Hollande, she will worry about collateral losses?

Am I sure about this? No, I am not sure about anything. Neither is Cameron, Corbyn, Hollande, anyone.

Britain needs to join the fight and do it now.

syria

We are where we are, but one needs to act

@iGlinavos