The World Today for May 19, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

Tough Love

GREECE

Eight years ago, at the peak of the migration crisis in Europe, around one million Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s bloody war traveled to Greece for safety and economic opportunities. Four years ago, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defeated leftist Alexis Tsipras on a pledge to decrease those numbers.

Today, Mitsotakis claims that the flow of refugees has declined by 90 percent compared with 2015. Recently, while campaigning for reelection, the prime minister visited the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos – where 20,000 refugees lived before a fire ruined their quarters – and he trumpeted his migration policies.

“The hellhole of Moria, as it would become known abroad, is no more,” he said, referring to the refugee settlement, according to the Guardian. “It belongs to the past. And of that I am especially proud because I kept the promise I had given to local society, particularly local communities … We enforced a tough but fair policy on the migration issue.”

Now voters must decide if they approve of those policies when they vote for a new parliament on May 21.

United Nations and European Union human rights officials and others have criticized Mitsotakis’ agenda, reported the PBS News Hour. They cite, for example, how Greek police arrested a Syrian migrant activist who was giving water and blankets to new asylum seekers on a host of charges, including human trafficking and espionage.

Critics have also accused the prime minister of authoritarianism, citing his treatment of the press and Greek intelligence agencies wiretapping Greek politicians under his watch, explained International Political Sociology.

Those concerns don’t seem to be moving Greeks, however. A recent poll found that the prime minister’s New Democracy party held a 6.5 percent lead over opposition leader Tsipras’ SYRIZA political party, noted the National Herald, a New York-based newspaper that covers Greek affairs.

Tsipras advocated for welcoming Syrian and other refugees with open arms in the past. But, in a move that appears designed to garner votes, he recently said he would keep a fence that Mitsotakis erected to prevent migrants from entering the country through Turkey, Voice of America reported. In his defense, Tsipras has repeatedly said that other European Union-wide measures are necessary to truly ease the pressure on his country, which has been struggling to find its footing in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis that devastated it.

Still, around 440,000 young Greeks – who are expected to vote for the first time – hold the key to who will win, noted Euronews. Many are generationally biased to side with Tsipras. But many have also lived through the Greek financial crisis, the asylum crisis, and the pandemic in recent years. They want stability.

Whatever happens, the outcome will be felt from Athens to Brussels to Damascus.

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