Greece (MNN) — It seems like the Arab Spring has finally met up with the Eurozone crisis. The resulting collision has been ugly.
According to the UNHCR, seven months ago, 26,000 refugees and irregular migrants entered Greece illegally, with Syrians the largest group after Afghans. Tasos Ioannidis with AMG International says, "People from the Far East, from the Middle East, and now from countries of the Arab Spring are flowing through Greece as they seek to find the place for a better life in the European Union."
That number has only risen with the intensity of the fighting in Syria. Ioannidis explains, "Most of the people that end up in Europe flow through Greece. Greece, for the longest time, for years now has had a problem being the entry point to the European Union."
Desperate Syrians cross into Turkey and hire smugglers who transport them into Greece, but more importantly, into Europe. It costs many of them their life savings, but the promise of safety and freedom pushes them forward.
However, once arriving in Greece, the country's economic and asylum problems make for an unwelcome new home. "Greece, because of the economic crisis that it has been experiencing for the last four years, it has strained the resources available to care for the refugees. So Greece is not in a good position to take care of all of the refugees that are seeking asylum in Greece," Ioannidis notes.
It has also introduced a new problem. Because "there is a high unemployment rate in Greece, some people in Greece are blaming refugees or foreign immigrants for taking jobs away from the local population. There is some hostility on the part of a small part of the population toward immigrants." In fact, Ioannidis says, over the last two elections, a neo-Nazi party: the Golden Dawn party, has gained traction.
They want "Greece for Greeks." A little more than 10% of the voting public supports this party and their ideals, Ioannidis says. He adds, "The main reason is because it is taking advantage of the frustration that exists among Greek people because of the economic conditions. It's always preferable to blame outsiders rather than to look at what the country has done in the past."
The problem for the refugees is they can't get the documentation they need to get help, which means leaving is also illegal. They can't stay in Greece, and they can't leave. Not recognized as people and unable to get help, the only groups responding seem to be private ones. In this case, it's the Church.
Ioannidis says AMG church partners have been helping for a while now. The influx of refugees has strained the church even more because more resources are needed. It's also why they won't quit. "It's a great opportunity to spread the Gospel, many of whom come from Muslim countries or from India where they are Hindus, so it has been a great ministry opportunity."
Basically, the church is doing double duty with half the supplies. "The economic crisis means they also have to minister to more of the Greek people. That means more resources are needed and that puts a greater strain on the church at a time when those resources are more scarce. People have less ability to contribute to the churches because everybody is going through hardship."
AMG ministry partners have faced desperate situations before, and God has always come through. Still, resources are finite. They need help providing things like food, clothing, medicine, and shelter to the ever growing number of people caught at the entry point into Europe.
They also need prayer. As the conditions deteriorate, the sentiment of "Greece for Greeks" is becoming more acceptable. "Pray for continued wisdom and strength, for protection from those few individuals that have extreme viewpoints and are threatening violence at times against the refugees or people who are helping or working with the refugees."