The Greek Economic Crisis

Since the year 2000, when it entered the Eurozone, Greece has not been able to keep its checkbook balanced. Before the 2008 worldwide economic crisis, Greece had been misleading the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund about its debt status. But in 2010, two years after the beginning of the worldwide economic crisis, the embezzlement was impossible to hide.

Greece’s problems began with the Wall Street Crisis of 2007-2008. Since entering the Eurozone, Greece turned to private banking for loans and registered them under a different figure through an instrument created by these banks in the balances they presented to the European Central Bank. But with the Wall Street Crisis, the debt caught up with Greece and it was unveiled that for years they were spending way more than what they were perceiving as income.

After the lack of accuracy in their balances was discovered and the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Union intervened, the Greek Ministry of Finance issued through the European Commission a detailed document explaining the measures and the presumptive economic forecast for the following years. It based the policies regarding the debt in five pillars: “1. Restore credibility in fiscal statistics by making the National Statistics Service an independent legal entity and phasing in, during the first quarter of 2010, all the necessary checks and balances that will improve the accuracy and reporting of fiscal statistics. 2. Improve transparency in fiscal management, by changing the process of budgeting, monitoring and evaluating its implementation, and moving towards a programme-based budget. 3.Reform the tax system in order to make it simple, stable, transparent and fair, and to effectively fight tax evasion by improving auditing activities and exchanging of information between auditing agencies. 4. Achieve control of primary expenditures by containing personnel and other current outlays and reallocating expenditures more effectively. 5. Implement the necessary structural reforms to enhance competitiveness and the efficient functioning of the economy” (Ministry of Finance, 2010, pg. 15).

The biggest issue here is not only the debt Greece has but also the fact that it transacts in Euro, a currency shared with 19 countries. Since it’s a common market with a unified currency, the entire zone’s Member States are affected by the crisis since it generates instability in the currency and risks the economies of the Eurozone countries. But leaving the Eurozone will have two problems for Greece: first, it would have to invest in the restoration and remission of the drachma and deal with the fact that it would have no credibility making it very weak against other currencies; secondly, the debt still has to be paid in Euros. Furthermore, “European policymakers struggle to achieve two main goals: safeguarding the idea that the euro is irreversible and stable; and protecting their own banks and taxpayer money. To achieve these goals, the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank have lent Greece huge sums to keep it financially afloat and in the euro zone, while demanding austerity and deep reforms in return. But they have been unwilling to either let Greece default or to grant substantial debt relief” (Walter, 2016).

And it’s because the possibility of a default, and the pressures from the EU⎯especially Germany⎯ and IMF on its consequences that they make Greece an offer on austerity measures in exchange of debt relief. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for a referendum for July 2015, “Grexit”, as it was known, to let the people decide between accepting the austerity measures or rejecting them. Paul Krugman, among others, considered that both kicking Greece out of the Eurozone and forcing the measures to them was “a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for” (Krugman, 2015). He furthermore added: “what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the Eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end” (Krugman, 2015). Tsipras campaigned in favor of voting against and the Greeks complied. The result of the referendum was 62% in favor of rejecting the measures and the remaining 39% in favor of adopting them (Wearden & Kollewe, 2015). Despite the outcome of the referendum, only days after it the central government accepted measures even more austere, especially regarding pensions and social services, than the ones proposed in exchange for bailouts. Tsipras faced huge backlash from Syriza, his party, and resigned and called for elections. He ran again and won.

Written by: Gabriela Benazar Acosta

However, one of the problems besides the nature of the measures is that “The bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold” (The New York Times, 2016).

Political Structures and Power Dynamics

As borders continue to close and re-open, policies to restrict and permit movement, and international and local laws amend to block or allow for asylum we see the that the future for refugees in Europe is dim and the present is even more uncertain. The abrupt and ever-changing nature of this crisis has dictated the livelihoods of millions of people and added a layer of unprecedented complexity to the way in which state actors, non-state actors and refugees interact. How this interface occurs within the setting of a refugee camp has especially been affected by the additional complexities of this unique context. Barbara Harrell-Bond argues that the greatest corruption of power in the camp setting is that of the hierarchical relationship between the humanitarian worker and the refugee and that because of the inherently patronizing design of the refugee camp and provision of resources and services within, that this dynamic can only ever be asymmetrical, where refugees are “symbolically disempowered”.  Building upon this notion, I offer that in the context of the European refugee crisis, specifically focusing on Greece and Serbia, this power dynamic is disrupted by the overriding presence of integral other actors, such as state authorities, and by the spontaneous formation and unpredictable nature of the camps within these countries. To properly illustrate the complex reality of the various manifestations of power dynamics in the context of Greek and Serbian refugee camps, the parameters of specific camps and the presence or absence of crucial actors must be discussed.

Central and Local Government & Military and Police:  

In Greece it is the central government’s stance, with added pressure from the EU, to mobilize human and financial resources to support the massive refugee population. Yet while the country is in the midst of a dire economic crisis that has been conceivably exacerbated by the influx of refugees, this directive is only carried out on a limited basis with the central government leaning heavily on the military and local governments with even fewer resources. After the complete chaos when over 1 million people moved through Greece in fall of 2015, at the direction of the EU the Greek government put forth an initiative to set up five “hotspots” on five of the islands with the highest number of refugee arrivals. These “hotspots” were supposed to be used as registration and accommodation centers that would be provide government provided food and non-food items. Once the borders and migration routes were shut due to the enactment of the EU-Turkey, the “hotspots” that had already been opened became more permanent detention centers for potential asylum seekers or those who arrived on March 20th and after, who could be sent back to Turkey. Upon visiting two of these centers, the one on the island of Leros as mentioned above and the other on Kos, it is clear that the way in which the site was constructed from the top-down and the heavily militarized operation leaves little space for any interaction between different parties in the camp. Both camps are surrounded by layers of barbed wire and are purposefully put in locations that are as far from the local population as possible. If the geographical location of the centers is not isolating enough the complete lack of contact between the refugees and military guards, who are present at all times, is enough to make anyone feel like a pariah and a prisoner.  Because these sites were a project pushed on the Greek government by the EU and put into the spotlight as a form of official government response, the political and social hierarchy reflects that of an authoritarian structure it seems to maintain control.

This militant prison-like camp setting is not the case for all state run camps in Greece, in fact it is more common for state security forces to be responsible for the management of a camp yet be a completely absent actor. For example the Ritsona refugee camp located 2 hours outside of Athens is an Air Force and Military run camp. The physical structure of the camp is very different from the island “hotspots” as it has no fence enclosing it, everyone lives in tents rather than the portable containers on the islands, and the camp is open for people to go and come as they please throughout the day. The camp was formed directly following the implementation of EU-Turkey deal when the Balkan route closed, as the government and UNHCR responded to more and more people becoming stuck in Greece. While the overall management of the camp was delegated to the Greek military in partnership with International Organization for Migration, the NGO workers and refugees in the camp reported that little to nothing is done in terms of improving infrastructure, security and access to necessary resources as a result. During an interview with Asa Swee, the Greece Country Director for the NGO Lighthouse Relief, that operates as the women and children’s protection lead in Ritsona camp, she provided the following example of how the military allowed the camp to have no running water for over 3 months.

“This is the biggest struggle for the people in the camp, how there is no running water. For 3 months if you asked the military why there was no running water in the camp they would say that it was someone else’s responsibility – the IOM, the Air Force, the local leftist party, anyone but them. It took a group of volunteers hiring and funding an outside contractor to do the job to finally get running water.”

There are multiple features of this camp that allow the military to be inactive in its management. First, is that the camp is geographically located far from any monitoring entities and the refugees living there have yet to go through the pre-registration process with UNHCR making the camp almost invisible to outside authorities. Also, the co-management structure allows for scapegoating and exchange of culpability. To further complicate this, as IOM is an international entity, you have the deeply political relationship between domestic security forces and international non-state power actors at play. Another example of this dynamic between international non-state and state actors being played in the camp setting in Greece, was in a camp called Sindos, that was opened in late May 2016 to accommodate for the thousands of people who were being evacuated from Idomeni camp on the FYROM border.

Non-Governmental Organizations and UNHCR:

International Non-Governmental Organizations have been instrumental in the response to the refugee crisis within the limitations the refugee camp. Although these entities are technically not aligned with any state to say that they do not add an additional layer of politics to the camp setting is untrue. In the context of Greece, where NGOs are working with exponentially higher numbers of refugees than in Serbia we see a similar if not exacerbated version of the divide between humanitarian and refugee. While the barrier may be firm, the unpredictable fluid nature of the day-to-day reality allows for less of a permanent asymmetrical dynamic and more opportunity for shifting power. This is due to the fact that in many cases camps are formed around refugees, rather than being built to bring people in. In the case of Idomeni, the site began as informal settlement as refugees used the space as a transit hub, where initially they could freely walk from Greece into FYROM. As border policies tightened, a fence built around the space by border guards and eventually the route closed completely, thousands of people were forced to call the border camp their new temporary home. This sparked the arrival of countless local and international NGOs to the camp. As the space had already been functioning without the support of the state and relaying on minimal support from NGOs, refugees themselves built the foundation of the camp from the bottom-up. Because of this, it is reported that the community leaders from the refugee organizations had practically equal seats at the table as humanitarian workers. As reported, by Idomeni independent volunteer, Athenasios Thamakris, and based on the overwhelming number of refugees present at the camp, it was in the best interest of the NGOs to cooperate with and listen to the actual needs of the population that had originally established the site. Athenasios argued that Idomeni was “the best organized camp, because of good coordination between the different NGOs and the NGOs and refugees”. He also noted that the overriding reason the camp was perceived as a success from his view was because the state was not involved.  

On the contrary to the scene in Idomeni, there exist many camp structures in Greece, which allow for the misuse of power on the part of NGO workers. In the military run camp Sindos, which was opened May 2016 outside of Thessaloniki to house people being evacuated from Idomeni, refugees live in tents squeezed into empty warehouse buildings. I visited Sindos two week after it opened and one week after refugees began living there, hence power dynamics were still being felt out and established by all parties present. While shadowing a staff member from the organization Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA), whose mission is to provide access to adequate health care to women and girls, I witnessed what Harrell-Bond would refer to as “inhumane humanitarianism”. When leading us on a tour of the camp, the WAHA staff member took us through one the warehouses used as housing. He proceeded to stop and yell at a refugee man and his son who storing empty water bottles near their tent, claiming it was “disgusting and unsanitary” to keep trash in this area. Once we had made it through the crowded warehouse, we encountered a group of people having a water fight using the large bottles provided by the camp. The WAHA staff member began screaming at the refugees, that they stop throwing water while we passed through saying such things as, “ you must learn to respect foreigners” and “don’t come to me when you’re out of water in 2 days”. Ultimately, the water fight did not stop and the WAHA staff became even more audibly enraged threatening use his power to prevent the refugees from securing a refrigerator to use during Ramadan and continuing to shout how they all needed “to learn respect”. By using his position of assumed authority and as a gatekeeper of resources to exert maximum power over the refugees, this NGO worker demonstrated the crux of Harrell-Bond’s argument. That the power that can stem from this type of asymmetrical relationship, is extremely seductive for those who see themselves as “deserving” of such power over others as often humanitarians do. Also, in this camp setting, which was designed to detain refugees physically, also can confine in psychological and emotional ways through the allowance of exploitation of power by actors who have no real legal authority.

Lastly, the UNHCR must be discussed as a non-state key actor in the refugee camp setting. As Harrell-Bond argues, the post-flight experience for refugees involves prolonged suffering in the process of legal registration and seeking asylum. She continues, that despite UNHCR being established to protect the rights of refugees, including the right to asylum, the UN entities staff have been found to be following procedures less favorable than UNHCR itself advises states to respect24. The current situation in Greece, refugees are waiting months just to be registered and are facing years of insecurity while awaiting asylum and family reunification decisions. This is a primary reason why UNHCR is seen a pariah within the context of the refugee camps in Greece. In Ritsona refugee camp, which has been open since March 2016, UNHCR has yet to start the pre-registration process. Also, NGO workers and refugees in the camp reported that UNCHR representatives only come to Ritsona every couple weeks, despite being the only source of registration aid and information for the 1,000 people that live there.

“I would rather be back in Syria where at least I can know my fate, rather than being here and subjected to this psychological warfare of information holding that UNHCR subjects us to”.

This statement, from a Syrian male who had been living in Ritsona since March, is a sentiment shared throughout the camp amongst refugees and understood by the NGO workers who are also kept out of the information circles of UNHCR. When asked about her experience working with UNHCR in Ritsona, the Greek island of Lesvos and in Idomeni, Asa Swee admitted that from the perspective of a service delivery based organization it is easy to blame everything that goes wrong in the camps on UNHCR because from the ground level they do not seem to be able to get anything done through the endless layers of bureaucracy. As to how the UN agency is perceived in the camp setting she says, “its so so bad they take off their vests when they go somewhere because they don’t want to have visibility because then everyone in screaming at them.” Because refugees must comply with UNHCR to maintain their asylum and resettlement opportunities, the above description of how the agency is perceived in the camp setting in Greece must be indicative of a major deficiency on their part and long withstanding frustrations on the side of the refugee.  The traditional long-standing framework whereby one overarching agency or body is responsible for the needs of an every-changing population in a volatile environment is no longer viable.

Written by: Alex Wynn

Conceptualizing the "Camp"

In order to grasp the present situation of the refugee populations living in “formal” and “informal” camp settings across Europe and to properly analyze the conditions in which these camps function, the concept of what a “camp” is across different contexts of migration must be addressed. The 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, offers a definition of refugee camp at it’s most basic level, as a temporary settlement for those individuals forced to leave their country in order to escape persecution. This over-simplified explanation captures none of the contextual complexities that truly describe how a camp is constructed and ultimately functions. A refugee camp should therefore be characterized by the following factors that are instrumental to it’s creation and functionality: the economic, geographic, political, social context in which the camp exists, as well as it’s size, density, dependence on external aid, and the level of control exercised over inhabitants by national or international authorities. Regardless of where the camp is located it exists as a landscape of competing interests. Such imperative entities as UNHCR, host countries, local communities, humanitarian actors, and refugees respond in different ways to displacement. Therefore, the camp space reflects “uneven geographies of power and status”. Consequentially, these uneven geographies transform the duration, nature, size and scope of the camp space. In the case of the refugee camps observed in Greece and Serbia, I would add that the actors present in the initial establishment of the camp, whether state officials or refugees themselves, are an instrumental factor in the conceptual framework of what constitutes a “camp” within the context of European refugee crisis.  

The refugee camp is a significant and compound material and human operation, one that is situated within a larger geopolitical context. According to the UNHCR statistical database at the end of 2015 there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, of this population 21.3 million are recognized refugees. By the end of 2015, of the 16.1 million refugees that fell under UNHCR’s mandate, the type of accommodation in which they live was known for 13.4 million people. This data discloses that at the end of 2015, about 56% of the total refugee population in rural locations resided in a planned/managed camp, compared with 2% who resided in individual accommodation. In urban locations, the overwhelming majority (99%) of refugees lived in individual accommodation, compared with less than 1% who lived in a planned/managed camp. Based on this data it is understood the prevalence and magnitude of the camps existence amidst the present global context of displacement.

In his piece “Civitas, polis, and urbs: Reimaging the Refugee Camp as a City”, Peter Grbac introduces the notion that the refugee camp is a space of paradox. That it exists as a place situated between formality and informality, mobility and immobility, permanence and impermanence. On the one hand, the camp can be understood as a phenomenon, situated on the margins of society that serves to confine, control, and filter. Conversely, the camp can be regarded as a space in which identity is actively formed, empowerment is encouraged, and resistance is practiced. I find this paradoxical description of power dynamics to be inconsistent in the context of what is happening in Greece, taking into account the determining factor to be what initial interests and coalition of forces are present at any given camps inception.

For example, the official refugee “Hotspot” located on the Greek island of Leros was physically and socially constructed by the Greek government and is further operated by the military. Once the site was constructed set far away from the local community and with multiple layers of barbed wire surrounding it, and opened a month before the EU-Turkey took affect, then refugees were brought in from various reception sites on the island. Upon observation, this camp seems to function just as much as a restricting and confining penitentiary as it looks. With seemingly more military and police personnel present than refugees themselves and with the mandate to detain, it is unfathomable how there is room for agency in a such a single interest landscape.  Yet in a setting like the informal settlement at the EKO gas station, located 25km from the FYROM border in Northern Greece which at it’s height housed over 2,000 people, there were multiple interests acting simultaneously due to the spontaneous nature of the camp’s creation. This allowed for a more equitable human-centered approach to camp formation, ultimately resulting in the formation of a community rather than a detention center.  Originally established by local police as a transit site for Idomeni, a much larger camp established as an entry point into FYROM, once the border officially closed the EKO station organically became it’s own village. Because the option of border crossing and further movement for refugees was cut off so suddenly, all initial actors (local police, refugees and the gas station proprietor) had to adjust and align for their interests to be recognized within this new reality. These ad-hoc camps that are forced to form as policies are rapidly changing and refugees get stuck in once transit locations, are more aligned with the idea of the camp as a space in which identity is actively formed, empowerment is encouraged, and resistance is practiced, as it is built from the bottom up by nature of it’s spontaneity. While the argument for the refugee camp as a paradoxical space is sensible in a more predictive context where the construction and interests present within the camp setting are more uniform. Yet due to the fluidly and unprecedented nature of how this particular humanitarian crisis is manifesting in formal and informal sites in Greece, it cannot be steadily applied.

The notion that the refugee camp and therefore the refugee, cannot be void of external political interests is not commonly agreed upon. Giorgio Agamben defines the crux of the camp as being, “the materialization of the state of exception”. Essentially, once an individual loses their civic rights, as Agamben argues refugees do, they become fit for the internment and are ultimately condemned to death. In defining this essence, the camp comes to represent the most potent expression of this state of exception. He goes on to content that as conditions of normality in the camps are consequentially suspended “ everything is possible and everything can and does happen”.

This assertion, that the refugee camp is a space of exception and functions outside of typical political and legal contexts, is more demonstrative of the disconnect between the theoretical conversations about what a camp is and the actual situation on the ground. The discussions, such as Agamben’s argument for the state of exception, seem to operate outside of any reality of what is occurring in the field. While it may be that the loss of certain constitutional rights of refugees occurs as a symptom of displacement, the refugee and refugee camp does not function completely outside of political structures. Within the context of the European refugee crisis, specifically looking at the situation in Greece and Serbia the camp setting across the board is messy and highly politicized from the individual, local, state and global level. State and non-state actors function as wardens and gatekeepers, while Non-Governmental Organizations receive funding from government entities and various foreign capital to operate within the camp setting. The refugees themselves are politicized in a myriad of ways, in this context specifically looking at the informal camp setting, refugees wield decision making powers as both community leaders and high level community liaisons to all other actors present. Ignoring the diversity of the camp experiences and the fact that not all camps are created equally, Agamben fails to convincingly demonstrate that the space of exception ought to be considered in an absolute sense. Also through his interpretation of the space of exception, the refugee is confined in a sphere of inaction. According to this description the refugee is stripped of autonomy and individuality, and ultimately becomes a victim unable to resist and respond to the complex situation engendered by the camp. This construction is limiting and unrealistic in the sense that the refugee cannot have working interests within the camp setting, as observed in various sites in Greece and Serbia the refugee are instrumental political forces in certain camp settings.

The concept of a refugee camp, while shaped by context, can only be explained on a spectrum.  On some level the “camp” can be effectively defined as a tented city supplied wholly from the outside, it can also described as both small, open settlements where refugee communities have been able to maintain a village atmosphere’ and as ‘larger, more crowded camps’ where they are ‘more dependent on assistance’. To discuss the concept of the refugee camp through a typological approach, drawing on the general character of camp spaces to highlight particular features of the space, including the politics, people, and practices that form everyday life, is a more applicable approach in the context of the European refugee crisis. Anna Schmidt, in Camp vs. Settlement, discusses the idea that there are set of parameters, present in all contexts, that ultimately inform all of the typologies recurrent in the literature and discussions of conceptualizing the “camp”. The first parameter is freedom of movement, arguing that the more movement is restricted the more a refugee settlement in generally seen to take on the character of a space of detention. The second parameter she puts forth is the mode of assistance and economics, this tenet serves to distinguish between camps based on international aid handouts and food distribution with limited opportunity for refugees to engage in independent subsistence, as opposed to situations where refugees can engage in economically empowering activities. The following parameter is the mode of government, this indicates the mechanisms of decision making within or above the refugee community. The fourth parameter is the camp’s standard designation as temporary shelter, this characteristic serves to shape perspectives and attitudes within, as well as external policy responses regarding economic and social freedoms for refugees.* Lastly, it is the indicator of population size and/or density that acts as a constant definitional component in matters of freedom of movement, planning and economics within the camp. Due to the ever-changing nature of the policies and refugee flows in Europe I would add the nature of construction as spontaneous or pre-planned as a final definitive parameter of the camp.  Based on observations in a diverse range of refugee camps on the ground in Greece and Serbia I find these indicators to be accurately representative of what shapes these spaces and hence what power dynamics thrive and are built within. Rather than serving to differentiate a camp from it’s more informal form as a “settlement”, it is these parameters which define the internal hierarchy of interests at play and allow for varied levels of politicking to preserve and promote these interests.

Written by: Alex Wynn

Can the EU support human rights and a free market at the same time?

This past May, the Greek government met with European Union (EU) leaders and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to discuss terms for its ongoing bailout that provides funds to its beleaguered public sector. In exchange for another round of severe cuts to public spending, increased taxes and continued privatization (i.e. austerity), the Greek government is to receive loans which will enable it to continue paying its debts. The bailout funds will be dispersed by the European Commission (EC), the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB), or the so-called Troika.

While some of the funds will be allocated to public sector services like healthcare and schools, most of it will be used to pay back existing loans and interest owed by Greece to the ECB and the IMF. So, in effect, Greece is borrowing money from the Troika in order to pay the Troika. Even the IMF, that paragon of neoliberal technocracy, has begun to express doubts about the sustainability of Greece’s debt. Nevertheless, the IMF remains on board with the latest bailout deal. How did Greece get into this mess?

The Greek economy joined the Eurozone in 2001 and the euro replaced the drachma the following year. At about the same time, German and French capital began to buy up Greek companies and government bonds which shored up government coffers and enabled the government to spend. Consequently, Greece’s annual budget deficits and public debt increased under both conservative and social democratic governments. But then came the crash and the whole Eurozone crisis.

As Greece headed into recession, tax revenues plummeted and the government’s annual deficit started to mount. No longer able to finance its spending and facing a burgeoning debt, Greece resorted to a bailout. Thus we come to the crux of the crisis. The bailout was not meant to help Greece maintain living standards and preserve public services during the recession. In order to ensure that German and French banks got their money back, government spending would have to be cut and taxes would have to be raised, Greek living standards be damned.

This past summer, the nominally ‘leftist’ Syriza government appeared to refuse to accept further austerity measures demanded by the Troika in the wake of a popular referendum. Syriza leader Tsipras called for the referendum in order to allow Greeks to say either “yes” or “no” to the terms of the Troika. A majority of the Greek people (61%) voted “no” to further austerity measures. Tspiras therefore had a mandate to reject the Troika’s demands.

Yet he and most of the other Syriza members in parliament backed down in the face of threats that Greece would be thrown out of the Eurozone and that the economy would plunge into even deeper into economic crisis. Athens ultimately decided to agree to the Troika’s terms in return for the promise of debt relief. Debt relief meaning that Greece would have to pay less back to its creditors and then be able scale back the austerity program.

It is nearly a year on and Greece remains mired in crisis. Unemployment stands at 24 percent generally and at 51 percent for youth. Average real wages continue to fall while pensions and public services continue to be to be cut. And at the same time Greece is taking the brunt of the influx of refugees from Syria and the Greater Middle East. The UN refugee agency estimates that there are just over 57,000 persons of concern in Greece.

The influx of refugees coupled with the ongoing economic crisis is the source of increasing social tensions within Greece. Last year, the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn, won 7% of the vote. Golden Dawn plays up fears that Greeks are being “overrun” by foreigners and face the possibility of becoming a minority within their own country, contributing to a rising tide of xenophobia and nationalism. Perhaps even more startling is that nearly a fifth of Golden Dawn voters were long term unemployed and that they did very well in the Aegean islands – which have seen their tourism industries collapse in the aftermath of the refugee crisis.

Traveling through some of those islands, one can see the results in the numerous foreclosed buildings dotting the town. Conversations with local business owners reveal a genuine sense of anxiety about the future. Ask a shopkeeper how their business is performing and they’ll tell you that business has gone off a cliff – a direct result of the previous summer’s influx of refugees. Apart from what appears to be elderly pensioners, there is hardly any youth in the empty cafes. It is not hard to imagine how that anxiety morphs into the kind of resentment that benefits parties like Golden Dawn.

In fact, many young Greeks are choosing not to stay in Greece at all. More than 200,000 Greeks have left the country since the financial crisis began. With such persistently high rates of unemployment, many young Greeks feel that they have no choice as there is no future for them in Greece. And just like the electoral success of Golden Dawn, the exodus of so many young Greeks highlights the public’s complete lack of confidence in Greek institutions.

The weakness of Greek institutions is having a negative impact upon the refugees applying for asylum there. According to Human Rights Watch, Greece’s Asylum Service is understaffed and underfunded, resulting in frustratingly long wait times for applicants. In addition, the report found that asylum seekers have had their freedom of movement curtailed and in many cases lack access to basic services like healthcare and legal aid.

As terrible as the plight of the refugees in Greece is, it is not necessarily surprising. After all, the Greek state’s capacity has been severely diminished as a result of years of austerity. It can hardly provide adequate services to its own people let alone the refugees. Here, there is a contradiction between the EU’s professed support for human rights norms and the free market.

Written by: Nickolas Speer