We have made an interview with George Christopoulos, the adviser at the Hellenic Parliament. We had a chance to ask about the global refugee crisis and its effects on Greece.
Welcome, George. Could you tell us a little about you and your work?
George Christopoulos: Hi! I am a London-born Greek economist who is a London School of Economics graduate and I currently work as a scientific adviser at the Hellenic Parliament.I am also a Ph.D. fellow at UNU-MERIT and have co-authored economic policy reports for the EU Commission. Previously I had spent some years as a fund-raising adviser at the Greek section of Amnesty International.
Is the refugee crisis a major factor that affects the internal political landscape? How would it affect voters’ tendencies or parties’ moves?
George Christopoulos: As you can imagine, the economy is by far the most important factor affecting the Greek political landscape. Everything else pales in comparison. The refugee crisis was a major issue at the beginning, especially when it became apparent that neither Greece nor the EU was even remotely prepared to deal with the scale of the phenomenon. Since then, the situation has pretty much become the “new normal”. The fact that the government has kept a tight lid on media reporting from refugee camps has contributed to the issue generally staying away from the front pages. Of course, as is the case in the rest of Europe, the far-right has gained some support from the refugee crisis, but the xenophobic rhetoric is almost completely absent in the rest of the political arena. Quite surprisingly, the general tendency that has prevailed is one of compassion, and the mainstream parties haven’t felt the need to pander to xenophobic voters.
How many refugee camps are there in Greece? Last week, there was some news about lacking security in the camps, especially for women.
George Christopoulos: There are about 50 camps according to official data and, including houses and hotels, the nominal capacity is supposed to be about 70000, but several camps are functioning above capacity. There have been many reports on security, health and safety issues in camps. As I said, the government generally does not allow media access, so I imagine that under normal circumstances we would see much more. There is no doubt that, with few exceptions, the situation in the camps is terrible, as was highlighted recently in Lesvos, where hundreds of people were forced to survive in the snow in a non-winterised camp.
Do you think that the EU supports Greek authorities adequately? What about the reactions in Greece to EU’s position?
George Christopoulos: In all fairness to everyone, this is an unprecedented situation which is extremely hard to manage. As is usually the case in politics, however, we are witnessing a blame game, where the Greek officials are accusing the EU of inadequate support and the EU is accusing Greek officials of inadequate implementation. I can imagine the truth lays somewhere in the middle. What is true, in my view, unacceptable, is that the funds provided by the EU have been managed very inefficiently by everyone, including the UNHCR and the NGOs. The Guardian had some good reporting on this recently. Also, I can say based on personal knowledge that many of the NGOs receiving EU funds are spending a huge chunk of that money on high wages for their staff instead of providing better conditions to refugees. It is a profoundly frustrating situation.
What do you think about the readmission agreement with Turkey? Is it seen as “effective” from the other shores of the Aegean Sea?
George Christopoulos: I guess it depends on each person’s definition of “effective”. It is generally believed that since the agreement fewer people are arriving, but I guess this is a situation that can change at any point.