The world watched as Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras slammed Europe for its “hypocrisy” and crocodile tears European leaders were shedding over the dead babies washing up on Greek beaches. He called European leaders for not being able to come up with a plan to handle the refugee crisis.
Tsipras even had the audacity to mention barbed wire fences and European walls– when his own country has one.
The European dream was born with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, the dream dies as new walls and barbed wire fences go up. #refugeesGr
— Alexis Tsipras (@tsipras_eu) October 30, 2015
But surprisingly, given that it is impossible to stem the flow of refugees at this point— and more are coming thanks to Turkey’s unwillingness to deal with the smugglers on its coasts— the real solution lies with Mr. Tsipras.
The refugees are landing on Greek beaches at unprecedented numbers. And with more crossings, there are more accidents. Many more. Dozens drowned this past week in separate incidents off the coasts of Lesvos, Rhodes, Kalymnos and bodies were plucked from waters off Agathonisi by Greek fisherman from earlier accidents.
How can Mr. Tsipras alleviate the pain and suffering? Simple. He can take down the wall that his predecessor Antonis Samaras built in 2011 in northeastern Greece.
Before the eastern Aegean became a watery graveyard for thousands of people fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere, the shortest (and safest) route was the land border between Greece and Turkey that runs along the Evros River. In fact, thousands of refugees used the crossing as a safe (and dry) way to enter Europe.
Years before the images of dead babies surfaced on European and American front pages, tens of thousands of refugees used the land border to cross— more than 100,000 in 2011 alone, according to the UN refugee agency.
But all of that changed when the center-right government of Antonis Samaras sought to win favor and votes from scared and nationalistic Greeks by launching a campaign to construct a fence in October 2011. Completed in December of 2012 at a cost of more than $3 million and constructed of strong barbed wire with thermal cameras, the stretch of land was effectively closed to refugees trying to enter European territory from Turkey.
Greece’s decision to build the fence was controversial from the start. The European Commission argued that it “would not effectively discourage immigrants or smugglers who would simply seek alternative routes into the European Union.” But the Samaras insisted on building it and went ahead.
The numbers of crossings dropped by 90% in the region but smugglers and desperate refugees simply changed their strategy and looked to Greece’s porous sea borders— a much more dangerous option, as we see the results today.
I’m certain that this idea will take on a life of its own in the dialogue and comments. Some people will blame the Syrian dictator and others will blame Russia, the United States, Barack Obama and other world leaders for not stopping the war in Syria. Some will toss around the usual anti-Muslim comments while others will just sit back and shake their heads in disbelief, while others will point the finger at Turkey.
No matter who is to blame and what political ideology you come from, or who you blame— there is one thing for certain. There is no way right now to stem the flow of these desperate people. They will continue to flee in the tens of thousands, weekly.
We can either sit back and watch more dead babies wash ashore on the beaches we spend our summer vacations on— or Mr. Tsipras can offer these people a safe and dry passage into Europe by tearing down that wall that Antonis Samaras built in 2011-12.
Mr. Tsipras should think twice about calling out European leaders for hypocrisy when a simple solution exists for the moment.