Greece (MNN) — The European Union is looking to play ‘hot potato’ with the refugee crisis. Under the Dublin Regulation, the EU is considering sending refugees currently in other European countries back to Greece, their original point of entry, before they can apply for a new host country.
However, leaders in Greece say such a move would overwhelm their nation as they are still struggling to get on their feet economically. Greek authorities say other countries in Europe are not pulling their own weight in taking the refugees ready for relocation. There are currently around 60,000 refugees stranded in Greece.
Tasos Ioannidis of AMG International says in the midst of these national struggles, Greek citizens are looking for something or someone to blame. And they are seeing a rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in Greece.
“We see a lot of negative reaction towards foreigners, towards refugees, a reluctance to accept them within the communities. There is a fear that things are going to change drastically for the local communities, so people are afraid. They are also hearing stories in the media of potential threats to safety, and also there is an economic cost to having the refugees and the foreigners come within their countries.”
Change has already struck Greece, and hard. Tourism is down and the economic situation still hasn’t recovered since their debt crisis in 2010.
According to the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, international flight arrivals to the main port of Mytilini dropped by 62 percent between July 2015 and July 2016. Stories abound of Greek tourist services struggling to bring in visitors.
Ioannidis explains, “You take all of those factors together, and people are feeling overwhelmed, they are feeling that their lives are going to be impacted adversely in several areas from economics to safety to how they go about doing their daily business. So all of them together are contributing to an increasing sentiment against refugees and foreigners in general.”
Recently, a parent’s association in northern Greece demanded barring refugee children from attending a local school, citing fears of diseases entering the school. The association head said parents would review their stance if they are ensured that refugee children will not be taking dangerous diseases into the school. However, the education minister, Nikos Filis, said school integration requires immunizations and the fears are unfounded.
“There is a risk of more violence as we look to the future,” warns Ioannidis, “that these sentiments against foreigners will fuel far-right groups or extreme nationalist groups and feed people who will use any means, including violence, to prevent others from joining the community. There is an increasing risk of more isolation for European countries, for more closed borders, for less freedom, for more violence in general throughout the European countries. It is a very potentially volatile situation that is developing.”
Rising hostilities can make things difficult for refugee ministry in Greece.
“It makes it more challenging to explain to people what it means to help the refugees, to see it as an opportunity, that these are people God is bringing to us, God is bringing to us the nations. It is getting more difficult to explain that. It is more difficult to raise support and to get the resources we need to help the refugees. And it is a shame, because it is such a great opportunity.”
Ioannidis says of AMG International, “We’ve been ministering to refugees in Greece now for the last couple of years, and there is such openness, and such willingness to listen. They respond very well when they are tangibly shown the love of Christ, and they are asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’
“It opens the way to share with them that Christ loves them, and they come from a situation where they were driven from their homes and lost loved ones in the name of their religion. So they are looking for something else, they are looking for something that can give them hope. They are looking for peace in their lives. And God is giving us a great opportunity to reach them.”
If you feel moved for the plight of refugees, you can do a few things. First, you can support organizations like AMG International who are working with refugees every day to give aid and God’s love.
Second, you can pray:
“Pray that people will understand the situation for what it really is…. They can be advocates to continue to support the refugee ministry that is taking place. They can give to this ministry. There is a need for resources, for food, clothing, there is a need for volunteers who will engage in ministering with the refugees who will do vocational training or language training….. Praying for openness, praying that the Lord will prevent violence from taking place, these are all things that are needed right now.”
Ultimately, says Ioannidis, “We should see it more as an opportunity, and less as a threat, and take advantage of it and make God’s love known.”