Ludicrous island schemes

on . Posted in English texts

If it weren’t for memories of some of the darker pages of the country’s history, settling Greece’s uninhabited islands with the refugees who land on our shores would not seem like such a bad idea. It’s not as if we look after these islands anyway, even though they are a part of Greece’s territory and could become productive under certain conditions.

Apart from the understandable chill provoked by such an idea, there are also, however, several details that would need to be addressed. The first is the cost. Building accommodation facilities on a deserted island costs a lot more than in areas that already have infrastructure such as utilities. A deserted island in the middle of nowhere would need to have an electricity production unit, healthcare services etc in order to host people.

And who would cover the cost of that? The European Union currently provides the Greek state with significant funding (1.2 billion euros to state agencies alone in the 2015-19 period) for building facilities and hosting migrants and refugees. Are we sure that it would also back the island idea, or do we have some money tucked away from the state budget?

The second thing we would have to consider is that it would be impossible for anyone to leave these islands, even though they all want to go to Western Europe. Each would basically be a closed ghetto. Apart from the additional cost of policing these islands (and the doubtless reluctance of officers to be transferred there), their residents would never be able to learn Greek or assimilate in any way into Greek society. Do we want parts of Greece that are populated entirely by people who don’t know our language or our ways?

Third, the benefits that Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis wants to stop – and God knows where the government is going with this, as the money is provided by international organizations – have a specific purpose: to provide temporary assistance to people that should be entering the productive cycle, getting jobs, paying benefits and taxes, and contributing to the national economy.

Some may consider this naive and they would be right in the sense that most welfare schemes like this tend to fail. What is certain, though, is that with the proposed deserted island policy, the money being spent on benefits would instead be spent on accommodation, food, power etc, and none of the refugees and migrants who could otherwise join the productive cycle with the help of these benefits ever would. How is it that the people rejoicing over the idea of cutting the benefits are the same ones who want a situation of having to provide perpetual funding to the new island facilities? Who knows?

The situation has reached a point where there are no great solutions anymore. There are only bad solutions and even worse ones. And the people who are managing them are the same people who refuse to look reality in the eye and jump into schemes without giving them any proper forethought or estimating their cost.

Published in eKathimerini.com 13.3.2020