Refugee crisis has driven a fault line through EU

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Thessaloniki in late June is a lovely place if you have some money; the cafes and bars on the corniche rammed with the young and the beautiful sipping cocktails.

Greece is supposed to be impoverished at 40 percent youth unemployment. Not here though. A fish meal on the waterfront will set you back $100.

Exactly two kilometres from there up the coast road, you can find about 150 Afghans and Pakistanis living in a half-built car park.

The concrete block stinks – full of rubbish and standing water. The air is full of mosquitoes and the people there are covered in bites and scabies.


And if you go up to the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (about to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia) you will find teenagers from these countries hiding in the forests, attempting to walk to Western Europe and in terrible fear of the police.

It has become an extraordinary state of affairs that in so many European countries – Greece largely excluded, as it remains sympathetic – these people are being increasingly treated with open loathing and disgust.

A far-right British commentator lost her job a year or two ago after describing refugees and migrants as cockroaches and saying she hoped they would drown.

Young refugees desperately want to go to Western Europe [Laurence Lee/Al Jazeera]

EU’s legal and moral obligations

Now, there are people in government in places like Italy who apparently have fairly similar thoughts.

What has happened over the last three or four years in Europe is deeply unpalatable for a bloc that continues to claim to be the world’s leading proponent of liberal democracy.

There is a truth in what has happened that they will not acknowledge. It is that the once-reviled policies of countries like Hungary, which claims to be protecting Christianity by keeping ‘invaders’ out, have been copied by other countries right across the bloc.


And at the same time, the European centre has maintained what is effectively a lie by insisting that Europe will stand by its legal and moral obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers.

But the truth is out now – Germany is under a full frontal assault from Austria, Italy, Hungary and parts of its own government, who say they have had enough.

Much of this is the European Union’s own fault. The quota system, which demanded that countries take refugees, exposed the fact that nations inside the 28-member block simply do not share the same moral code.

It was portrayed as undemocratic and doomed to failure.

So now it has all come to a head. The refugee reception crisis has driven a huge fault line through the EU. It now needs to figure out whether it wants to bother to pretend to be an exporter of liberal values any more or be more honest about its behaviour.

Refugees in Greece stay in dilapidated structures lacking basic amenities [Laurence Lee/Al Jazeera]

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