Greece (MNN) — As recently as four months ago, Greece was the fast track to Europe for the refugees fleeing ISIS and war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Now, it’s become a sort of grim holding pen.
After the European Union’s migrant agreement with Turkey took hold, there’s been a definite lessening of refugees coming to Greece over the Aegean Sea. Under the deal, refugees who take illegal routes to Greece from Turkey are being sent back.
There was significant push-back on the agreement from humanitarian groups, but the deal hoped to stop gangs of people-smugglers from continuing to traffick migrants in rickety boats such as dinghies across dangerous waters. Such treacherous crossings led to hundreds of deaths due to drowning and hypothermia.
Since the EU-Turkey agreement was enacted, the number of migrant deaths in the Aegean Sea have dropped to very few, and by the end of June, the Turkish Coast Guard reported 100 days without a single death.
Tasos Ioannidis, President and CEO of AMG International, shares, “The number of refugees attempting coming to Turkey from Greece has definitely slowed down since February. Over the last few months there have been some refugees that have come to Greece from Turkey, but the number is only a small fraction of what it was earlier. So the agreement with Turkey appears to be holding for now, although there is a lot of uncertainty about the future.”
There is still an overwhelming amount of refugees currently in Greece, with official numbers over 56 thousand. Ioannidis observes the government has struggled to keep up, even with the dramatic slowing of migrants in recent months.
“The government has not done a very good job of managing the refugee crisis. A lot of international nonprofits [and] NGOs have been involved in providing basic needs for the refugees, and even after more than a year and a half of this going on, the government is still not at the place where it can do a good job with treating or with caring of the refugees that are in the country.”
Economics Stifling More Aid Within Greece
To be fair, the situation Greece was facing when the crisis started came as a one-two punch. Greece was in a deep financial struggle that led to the bailout. Then refugees started pouring over their borders.
“Greece is in a very bad situation still economically. The new bailout agreement that Greece signed with its creditors required that they take a number of steps, and that meant either in using expenses or increasing taxes. This government has chosen to really try to increase taxes, and the result has been an even greater recession. This recession in Greece now has been going on for seven years and the second half of this year is going to be very difficult for Greece.”
Greece’s struggling financial situation has even affected people’s ability to help refugees on an individual basis. Ioannidis says, “People have reached the point where they are unable to pay their taxes, there are a lot of businesses that are closing, they are shutting down. And now those businesses include some really large corporations in Greece. So it’s a very difficult economic situation. The government is behind its payments to all the people it owes, so that’s part of the reason it cannot do much more for the refugees.”
While the EU-Turkey migrant agreement has produced results, it seems, there is a need for ongoing, long-term assistance to those already in the country. “There is still a lot of basic stuff that is needed — food, clothing, medical care. That is an ongoing need and it is not going away. So although the situation is not in the news a lot these days, that need is very much there…. It has transitioned from a situation where people are transiting through Greece and it was short-term help that they needed, now they need long-term help.”
Hope At No Cost
Yet, even in this tragedy, there is an opportunity to share hope at no cost — the love of the Gospel — with hurting and needy souls, most of whom are Muslims.
“There are a lot of centers that have opened up throughout the country and workers from the whole evangelical community have a regular opportunity to engage with refugees,” says Ioannidis. “I was there about a month ago and I visited one of those centers right outside the old airport in Athens. It’s amazing to see refugees coming every day, and it’s an opportunity to give them some basic stuff, to provide medical care for them, to help them start to learn English as a second language. There is so much opportunity.”
In times like these, it’s understandable why many feel that prayer is a last resort — the thing people do only when they can’t do anything else. But if the situations facing refugees are going to be altered and improved through the eternal hope of Christ and the encouragement of Christ-followers, then prayer is the best thing you can do.
Ioannidis shares these requests: “Certainly pray for all the many volunteers who are working to minister to refugees. Pray for strength for them, for protection, pray that they will continue to have opportunities. There is so much opportunity to help people both physically and spiritually. So many doors have opened to share the love of Christ and God is doing an amazing work among the refugees there…. Pray for the fiscal needs of the refugees, for the resources that are needed to provide for those needs because it is a very expensive effort to do so, and just that God will continue to work among those lives, and that He will draw people to Him through this opportunity.”
AMG International and partner organizations continue to work with and encourage refugees with the Great Commission in mind.
“This is a unique opportunity because we are able to reach people who we otherwise we would never have had the opportunity to reach. The Lord is bringing the nations to us, and it’s an opportunity to show God’s love to them.”