What the Greek Vote Means for Migrants and European Union Policy

Today, in celebration of democracy,  Greeks headed to the polls to decide the country’s fate through a critical and monumental referendum: to vote “Yes” and accept a bailout package from Greece’s creditors, or vote “No” and  face default, economic collapse and a potential exit from the eurozone. It became clear just a few hours ago that the majority of Greeks voted “No” to the bailout–a surprising result that will now cause ripples of volatility throughout the financial markets and leave open the possibility of Greece’s exit from the EU.

The economic circumstances of Greece has dominated the news since its debt crises in 2009, exposing the nation’s economic structural weaknesses and climbing debt. In recent weeks, images of Greeks standing impatiently on long lines to withdraw cash from ATMs and pull their pensions from banks dominated global headlines. The bank runs were placing heavy strains on its financial sector, causing the European Central Bank to freeze the money supply it was prepared to provide and forcing the Greek government to shut down its banks amid the panic. The Greek government believed that the EU intentionally restricted its funds in order to push cash-strapped Greeks to vote “Yes” in the upcoming referendum. The country also had its ratings slashed by Moodys, a credit rating agency, after its failure to make a $1.73 billion debt payment to the International Monetary Fund last Tuesday.

With all the focus on Greece’s economy, very little attention is paid to its migrants. Greece is an EU periphery country, along with Malta, Italy and Spain, where these nations receive and process the bulk of migrants from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Greece has surpassed Italy as the main entry point of migrant arrivals according to the UNHCR.

As Greece is the first stop for many migrants, it was a priority of the government to include funding as part of their overall migration control and support programs; however, it will have trouble expanding its services with those additional funds due to the debt it has already accrued in operating them. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Greece is slated to receive €446 million in EU funds earmarked for 2014-20 for border control, asylum procedures and refugee-support programs. But the funds, which haven’t arrived yet, are in part going to cover past expenses, Immigration Minister Tasia Christodoulopoulou said.

Even when the money comes in, the country is unlikely to be able to make efficient use of it because past bailouts set restrictions on the number of new public-sector hires Athens can make, said Panagiotis Nikas, director of the interior ministry’s first-reception division. The government says it needs 2,000 new employees to expand the reception system.”

With today’s results, the question looms where Greece stands with the EU and whether or not it will cooperate with the bloc’s overall security strategy of  stemming the flows of migrants. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras may have attained the additional political capital and negotiating power to expound on Greece’s troubles to the EU, but the question remains whether he will be able to also address the circumstances and needs of migrants during these much-needed deliberations.

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