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The Peril of Fleeing Reality: Refugees in Greece

How risky is it to permit unchecked Mideast refugees to flow into Northern Europe?

While refugees from the Middle East conflict pour into Europe, fleeing war, the EU may also be fleeing the reality that is unfolding in Europe. There is simply no effective system in place to distinguish between giving refuge to those fleeing war versus those who simply want a better economic future versus those who are arriving in the hope of spreading their creed of jihad. It is not a pretty thing to say. But it is not pretty to avert one’s eyes and hope for the best either.

Many of these refugees, before their arrival in Italy or Greece, tear up their identity cards, presumably so that they can say they are from the country that is most war torn at the time. How can the EU make sensible decisions when there is no way of discerning a refugee’s origin or motivation?

I know this because last week my husband and I were on vacation on the Greek island of Lesbos, where we witnessed the boats landing, the refugees spilling out on land, happy to be away from the violence, optimistic about their future. They told us that they came from Iraq and were bound for Germany and Sweden, that they had no papers or ID’s, that they’d been forced to burn their documents. One refugee, Mohammed, who asked to take a selfie with me as if I were his official welcoming committee, told us that he had paid over 1,000 Euros for the one hour boat trip, and waited for a year beforehand in a camp in Turkey to make the voyage.

The refugees journey the six miles on fragile inflatable black dinghies, which are discarded on arrival along with the bright orange life jackets. The shoreline of Lesbos is dotted with these remnants. From what I’ve seen on the Greek side, this business is officially unofficial. It’s not that the refugees come in under the radar. There simply is no radar.

Greek Island Refugees

Every day boatloads of refugees arrived, sometimes 200 people a day. The majority of people coming are men in their 20s and 30s. They are not officially welcomed, but must walk into town where they rest at the soccer field, their shirts drying on the stone walls. Then they walk the 50 or so kilometers to Mytilini, which has an airport, where, after a day or a month, they may be processed to proceed to the European countries who will still accept them — like Germany and Sweden (whose citizens are in Greece blithely sunning themselves, some of them swimming naked. The contrast with the refugees, especially the women who wear long tunics and head scarves, could not be more pronounced.)

Unofficial as their arrival in Greece may be, the refugees know that they will not be turned away. I can’t help think of other refugees who were not accepted by other nations — the Jews for example, in World War II. It is a wondrous phenomenon to witness — a people being saved, a porous border, unpatrolled.

Yet I am forced to admit this story of refugees, the EU’s humanitarian gesture of essentially looking in the other direction and then, perhaps, helping to settle the refugees, is quite unsettling. I am certainly not against the intent. But there is a lack of process here, a lack of security, that is alarming and startling, especially for an Israeli citizen like me, whose son Koby was murdered by terrorists.

For there is a danger in this influx. I met a woman on Lesbos from Turkey, a Muslim journalist and professor, who told me that Turkey just wants to get rid of the refugees, and that the Turkish government gives the refugees money to leave. “Sending these men to Greece and then on to Europe…It’s an invasion,” she said before adding, “Who knows if ISIS is infiltrating Europe, right here, right now?”

It is of course not clear what will happen if and when the swelling number of refugees arrive in Northern Europe. How will these immigrants shape Europe’s political future, its ethic of tolerance and freedom? As the EU worries about Greece being able to pay their debts, that worry may one day be displaced by a larger burden — how to integrate thousands upon thousands of additional Muslim refugees, some of whom may one day be radicalized, some of whom, no doubt, already are.

About the Author
Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. She is the author of the book "The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration." Her book, "The Blessing of a Broken Heart," won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She can be reached at sherri@kobymandell.org
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