What Greece and Europe Must Do for Refugees

A migrant holds the hand of a Greek Coast Guard officer near Lesbos, February 8, 2016. Reuters/Giorgos Moutafis

The chances of finding a common European answer to the refugee crisis are fading fast. Recent refugee flows into Europe have presented our society with a new institutional, political and social challenge. Important milestones, such as the Schengen Agreement, are being called into question. European countries, one after the other, have set in motion a downward spiral of harsher policies of deterrence, an escalating lack of solidarity and a deflection of blame for the management of the problem to other countries.

In this suffocating atmosphere, the refugee crisis has highlighted the key role of the Greek borders as the external frontiers of the European Union. But the current Syriza-led Greek government has aggravated the problem by underestimating its complexity, displaying an ideological obsession with an open door policy and the admission of all with no exceptions.

In particular, the naive manner in which the current Greek government treated all these migrants as asylum seekers resulted in thousands of economic immigrants claiming to be Syrians with the use of fake identification documents issued mainly on the Turkish borders.

Greece is under scrutiny today from the European institutions and the public over the way it is managing its role: securing its external borders through the so-called hotspot approach, adequate identification and registration of the arriving immigrants and the screening procedure for asylum eligibility and their secure resettlement to destination countries. Estimates as to the severity of this phenomenon are alarming.

Around one million refugees and immigrants will attempt to reach Europe via Greece in 2016, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Neither Greece nor any other European country is in a position to deal with such massive numbers of arrivals, if left alone. A common and coherent proposal needs to be devised by leaders of pro-European parties from all member states at the European Council on Thursday.

Here are five suggestions of immediate actions that could be taken:

The rebuilding of trust among member states for the implementation of the existing decisions. A European force for emergency action should be in charge of supervising registration of incoming populations, the screening procedure for asylum eligibility, the guarantee for decent living conditions for the refugees and the coordination of their relocation to other member states.

The design of a new asylum policy should be addressed. At present, the 28 EU member states implement 28 different procedures for asylum granting, despite the common criteria. The main principle of the new regulation should be a fair and proportionate distribution of the refugees based on criteria such as population, GDP, unemployment rates and the number of applications.

The cooperation framework with Turkey must be revised. The EU disbursement of funds to Turkey should be linked to its performance on deterring refugee flows and immigrants' readmission rates, on the basis of the agreements signed with both Greece bilaterally and the EU itself.

The creation of refugee reception centers in periphery countries. One of the major reasons why refugees risk embarking for Europe is the lack of processes for granting asylum in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This can be further combined with a direct EU economic aid grant to the refugees themselves for the improvement of their living conditions. In this way, the refugee smuggling and trafficking networks will be under threat because of the potential for a legal "pathway" to Europe in the medium term.

The formation of a new immigration policy aimed at the integration of a limited number of refugees and immigrants based on specific criteria in combination with an efficient repatriation policy for the rest of them. The EU has introduced a new tool in this direction, the European Blue Card, so that highly qualified immigrants are given the right to work within EU member states. A partial revision of this tool should be undertaken so that it applies to a limited number of unqualified immigrants as well.

Ioannis Kefalogiannis is a Greek MP of the Foreign Affairs Department of the New Democracy opposition party.