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ATHENS: For more than two years, Greece’s conservative government has prided itself on enforcing a “tough but fair” policy towards thousands of asylum seekers trying to cross the EU’s southeastern border.

But towards Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, the reception has been starkly different – and long-term migrants have been the first to notice.

Shahran, 16, is among around 100 Afghans who were recently told to clear out of their lodgings in a camp in Serres, northern Greece, to make space for Ukrainian refugees.

“When the Ukrainians started coming, we were told to leave the house we were living in and they took us to another area of the camp, in a very dirty container. Why?” he told AFP.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi drew criticism last month after calling Ukrainians “real refugees”.

The conservative Greek government, in power since 2019, has strengthened patrols on the border with Turkey designed to crack down on asylum seekers.

It has slashed benefits available to recognised refugees from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, many of whom have struggled to assimilate in Greece for years.

Closed camps have been created on Greek islands with EU funds, and aid groups assisting asylum seekers have been drastically regulated.

In contrast, within weeks of the conflict starting, Athens issued temporary residence permits to Ukrainian refugees, who will be able to stay and work in the country for one year.

The government has also promised work, noting that there are more than 140,000 jobs available in the agriculture sector and some 50,000 in tourism.

90,000 more Ukrainian refugees flee in 24 hours

More than 18,000 Ukrainians have fled to Greece so far, compared to 32,600 asylum-seekers staying in the country’s camps.

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