The spotlight was cast on Australia’s immigration policy in Greek Parliament on Friday following a question by Yanis Varoufakis, head of the MERA25 party and Greece’s former finance chief for the leftist SYRIZA party.
Mr Varoufakis tabled a question about the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the recent riot, fire and subsequent deaths of a woman and child at Moria detention camp on the island of Lesbos, a facility designed for 3,000 people but which currently holds more than 13,300.
“Today in Australia – I refer to it because I know the country in question very well – there are tens of thousands of children from the crisis, children that left from here, children that are illegal immigrants, economic migrants. Thousands have gone with a tourist visa and have stayed there, lost in the system to survive,” he said.
“Do you want Australia to behave to these Greeks, children of the crisis, of ‘memorandumistan’ (bailouts) to say for for want of a better word in the same way in which you are proposing, with Moria and hot spots?”
He said that “humanity is on the move” and that we need to understand “as Greeks, and also as European, that closed borders, walls, shootings, and the use of barbarity as preventative measures, cannot contribute to a just state or progressive nation.”
Mr Varoufakis pointed to the “ideological difference” between himself and Mr Mitsotakis in the way migrants are perceived as a “threat”. He said, “We believe that if the children and grandchildren of migrants in Greece today are embraced rather than shut up in facilities like Morias, and we don’t build new fences and new walls around these facilities, they will become better Greeks, the best ambassadors for Greece of the net decade.”
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Responding to Mr Varoufakis statement, conservative Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, “We do not want fences or walls, we want rules.” He reiterated that the United Nations makes a clear distinction between refugees and economic immigrants.
“Economic migrants of previous generations who reached the United States knew that they would first pass through Ellis Island, where they were registered,” said the Greek leader. “Do not compare a country built by immigrants, a multi-cultural country, such as the USA, with Greece or other European countries.”
Mr Mitsotakis referred to Australia as a country that respects “human rights and is at the top of indexes that evaluate democracy and respect of human rights. Under no circumstances would an illegal vessel reach the coast of Australia. The end. They make it clear! They say, ‘You can’t come here.’ And do you know why they say that? They don’t say that because they are inhumane or because they don’t recognise human suffering that hides behind these stories. They say it because they want to ‘break’ the cycle of traffickers, and they want to and can and have done this. The only way to ‘dismantle’ the smuggling rings is for them to know that they would be turned away if they were to arrive in the country.”
He told Mr Varoufakis that his “imaginary world” which would make Greece a friendly receptor and “paradise for all the oppressed people of the world” would be best left to Mr Varoufakis’ own fantasy world. “Our government has a totally different policy regarding this matter,” he said.
A fallacy in Mr Varoufakis’ argument
Neos Kosmos’ readers responded with fury on social media regarding Mr Varoufakis’ statements. While it is true that there were a number of Greek arrivals to Australia from the ’40s to the ’70s without the relevant paperwork, particularly sailors, these immigrants later applied for permits to stay. It is not true that tens of thousands of young Greeks came to Australia illegally on student visas.
The students who arrive to study in Australia do so using legal means, and are required to pay hefty fees to do so.