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What do Greeks think about a borderless Europe and the refugee crisis?

By Hanna Polischuk

The next stop where we experienced the refugee problem and raised the question about the borderless Europe was Greece. We asked some students, whom we met in Athens and Patras, for their opinions. Most of our respondents have already been travelling around Europe either for holidays or for education and cultural exchanges. Many of them have gained international experience by being members of international organizations and studying in other countries via Erasmus amongst others.

Fly athens

On the question if there are borders in Europe, almost everyone said that they are, but only in our minds:

I think that borders are mostly in the European minds, because now with everything that has been happening, we have more prejudices towards what’s going on in Europe and the people who are coming to Europe. The government is following that mindset, which means that they create policies resulting closing borders.

Theodora Giakoumelou, 19

However, it is not possible to notice the border problem inside the Schengen area:

If we talk about the Europeans, there are no strict borders, but the other people outside of the EU have problems to visit Europe. I know it from the experience of my friends from Asia and Africa.

Dimitris N., 22

There are not really visible borders in most of Europe, but if you check better, you can see that in some countries there are completely no borders: you can go between countries just passing by, while in other countries it’s harder to do that, you have to follow some procedures or some paperwork, especially if you go from the West to the Eastern side of Europe. Nowadays, it is going harder and harder to realize that once we did not even care if there were borders, but now, with the refugee crisis, they are coming back to the reality. Many countries are even building a visual borders.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

For Greek people as well as fo13265980_615852725229035_4493971792193996963_nr other EU members it is very easy to cross borders and travel from country to country. In the world passport rating Sweden, Finland and Germany are ranked the country #1, for which most of countries are open (visa free). Greece is a bit lower in the list; however, it also has a high position. Many Greek students confirmed that it is not hard to travel for them.

When we went onto the streets, we met many refugees. As we understood from what we saw and heard from locals, the refugee problem is growing bigger every day and Greece accommodates currently more than 50,000 refugees at its territory:

Many refugees, especially in the Greek islands like Samos, Chios, the ones that are actually very close to Turkey. I believe the number is something like 50 thousand people or something, which is related to the population, it is low I guess. But imagine all those people have gone through this situation with women and small children, it is difficult. So, it is not so much problem for us as it is for them I guess.

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

Greek youth feel mostly safe in their country, being able to understand the reasons why people moved there:

I feel safe because I do not think that these people want to harm us, Greeks. They want to find a new home and job. So, I don’t feel afraid, and I am fine with them.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21

I think that it is difficult for them too, and I think th13237683_615852638562377_227857386974934013_nat we should have solidarity and help them to integrate here in Greece. Because there is a war at their home, I would be afraid too. It is not safe not only for me, but also for them. It is difficult; ok, I am afraid, but it is not only me here. I live with other people, so… If I had a war in my country too, I would go away, it is true.”

Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

Yes, I feel safe in Greece. I am very proud about the behavior that Greece shows to refugees, and I think that the other European countries do not have the behavior that they should have. So, it is important to inform people about the problems that refugees have, to be more open-minded about these problems, and to understand that we need to help to solve these problems.

Dimitris N., 22

I think that the refugees are the people who have a lot of problems in their countries and they come to Greece or to other countries because they want to find a better life. So, I think we must help them, because all of us, we are the same, we are people, and we should help people who have problems. So, in a lot of cases refugees do not make lots of problems to people who live in the places where they come; but in other cases a lot of them make problems because in such conditions in which they live, they have nothing to eat, they don’t have a house for living. So, it is possible that they will start robbing because they do not have money to eat. And so, it all feels strange: in lots of cases you feel safe, in other you don’t feel safe.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

In the opinions of many Greeks, the European Union has failed to solve the refugee crisis. As the EU is trying to find a compromising solution, and it is really hard (almost impossible) to find a compromise between so many countries, the problem becomes bigger instead of being solved. The latest solution was an agreement with Turkey and Greece in order to stop refugees from going further. But even with huge efforts and the financial support, only two countries cannot cope with such a huge problem.

So, should borders be more open or closed at all? This question is difficult because on the one hand we all strive for the mobility, and at the same time we want to be secure and protected:

I think that the borders must be open, but in cases when people come from other countries, they should not create problems to people who live in the country they visit. For example, in Greece we have many economic problems, and many people don’t work, because they don’t have work. So I think when people want to come for vacation, is ok; those who come for living is also ok, but I prefer to take the work which they might take instead of me. This situation is very difficult for us.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

13227200_613653185448989_3924533945965814428_nIn my opinion borders have to be open, but when you visit a place, you have to respect the local culture, traditions etc. You have to explain them not to implement them in your life, but you have to respect them. So, open borders with respectful physicals, let’s say. That’s my opinion

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

When we talk about the Greek-EU relationships, what positive and negative points can you think of?

“Positive? Hmmm… Because we’ve been born and grown up in Europe and having all the privileges of the EU already, we do not perceive them as positive. But, of course, being able to travel around Europe without a passport is a great positive point; Schengen is great, as well as Erasmus and other mobility and educational programs. As for negative points, I think right now when the European Union is facing a great amount of existential problems, meaning that we do not really know what we are doing with the EU, how do we want to change it in order to be able to adapt to the new circumstances, both in economical and the social field.

Elena Panagopoulou, 24

What would you wish for the future of Europe? The most common responses are: being more united, open-minded and helpful. Here some of the responses:

13226936_613653178782323_5795814118772003586_nI would like to say something to be changing the European Union at the moment, because I think that Europe is not only the EU but it really affects the situation around Europe. So, I would like to say changing something in how the European Union is working right now.

Erifyli Evangelou, 21

They should understand that it is not only our problem, of Turkey and Greece, and the Eastern Europe; it is a problem that affects us all.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21 and Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

I wish a more united Europe in terms of diversity, borders also, and understanding, because if Europeans cannot understand each other, there is no solid future for us. And there is no actually future for this generation. We need to understand our needs, and satisfy everything that needs to be covered. There are actually should be more reforms.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

To be more open-minded and to feel as European citizens instead of feeling the citizens of a single country that has borders, and to be more secure about economics, about technology. I think there are many people who have the abilities to succeed.

Dimitris N., 22

It was a big pleasure not only to discover this wonderful country, but also to hear the voice of youth, which gave us the insight about the situation and attitude in the country. We sincerely hope for the improvement of the refugee situation and rational, effective actions from the EU side. We would like also to express our gratitude to AEGEE-Athina and AEGEE-Patra for helping us with organization of our activities, for their hospitality and care. Moreover, huge thanks to Interrail for the opportunity to cross borders fast and with comfort!