Greek Refugee Crisis: Damaging the Economy and Ecosystems Alike

Because of the warm climate, beautiful beaches, high safety, and unique cuisine, Greece has become a major tourist destination in recent years. Due to the heavy influx of travelers, Greece’s struggling economy has become dependent on the revenue gained from the tourism industry. In 2017 alone, 27.2 million tourists visited Greece and brought in $35 billion euros, making up 61% of the total revenue. With a population of only 11 million citizens, the amount of people increases by more than double and creates a crowded, busy environment. Many of these tourists visit the beautiful islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos. These islands, however, are facing a major refugee crisis due to the nearly 60,000 refugees that are inhabiting or passing through these islands.

The majority of refugees entering Greece are fleeing Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Greece currently holds over 50,000 refugees, more than half of whom are women and children. Over 11,000 refugees are on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos. The Moria refugee camp, situated on the island of Lesbos, is currently home to more than 8,300 refugees while is it only equipped for 3,100 people. Refugee camps and shelters are facing extreme problems of overcrowding and lack of materials.

Many people fear that this major influx of refugees will negatively impact the tourist industry.  In 2016 alone, 173,000 refugees arrived by sea, many just passing through to surrounding countries. Not only does this extreme increase in people add to the busy environment, it has proven, for some, to lessen business from the tourism industry. The Blissarys, a couple living on the island of Lesbos, owned a cafe but were forced to close it due to a lack of business. They found that this lack of business coincided with the incoming refugees. Studies have shown that domestic tourism has decreased by 66.7% during the crisis period.

Aside from the economic fear of many business owners and locals, citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the ecological and environmental toll that this crisis is taking on Greek ecosystems. In the refugee camps, food is regularly served in plastic containers with utensils and water bottles. Served three times a day to about 9,000 refugees, this produces over 27,000 pieces of plastic waste every day in one single camp. Due to the absence of a recycling center on the islands, none of this material is recycled and, instead, dumped into a landfill. Rubber dinghies and plastic life vests are stranded and washing up on shores as well, contributing to the environmental problems. People have developed “upcycling” projects as a solution to this immense waste and a way to repurpose many of the deserted materials. Lovest, a Greek upcycling organization started in 2016, has collected many of the life vests and boats and recycled them into products such as backpacks, book covers, and jewelry. This project has developed into a large organization over the years and has provided many job opportunities to locals and refugees, alike.

It would be beneficial for the State Department to invest in the Greek refugee crisis to preserve the tourism-dependant economy and delicate environment. Support for environmental non governmental organizations, such as Lovest, would assist in organizing beach clean ups, producing less waste, and increase the use of and proper disposal of recyclable materials. Organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee, aid refugees by providing necessary materials, support, job training, and assistance in rebuilding lives. Support for this organization would assist in solving the refugee crisis and alleviate the strain on Greece’s economy and environment.  

Censorship in Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became president of Turkey in 2014, and since then, the prosecution rate for “insulting the president” has risen by 4470% and the conviction rate by 5148%. In order to convict over 200 journalists, media workers, and ordinary citizens, the government uses Article 299 of Turkey’s penal code. Article 299 states that “Any person who insults the President of the Republic shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of one to four years; (Amended on 29/6/2005 – By Article 35 of the Law no. 5377) Where the offence is committed in public, the sentence to be imposed shall be increased by one sixth.”  While in Turkey, working with NGOs like Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, I aim to (carefully and lawfully) challenge the censorship of the internet and media by the government. 

In 2007, Erdoğan’s political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won its second election. During this period, the police found out about an alleged coup plot created by a secret organization called “Ergenekon”. Doğan Media Group’s newspapers reported on a corruption scandal in 2009 and was subsequently fined $2.5 million by the government; this forced the group to sell two newspapers to a government-aligned company. The discovery of Ergenekon led to many high-profile cases, and even to another coup plot in 2010 with the code-name “Sledgehammer”. Numerous journalists, judges, and teachers were convicted, along with hundreds of military officers. During the summer of 2013, a nationwide anti-government protest occured, and the police brutally put an end to the demonstration. At the height of this “crackdown,” mainstream media showed nothing and CNN Türk broadcast a documentary about penguins. In 2014, newspapers linked to Fethullah Gülen, an imam who fell from Erdoğan’s good grace’s, became the targets for police raids. These media companies were taken over by those trusted by and allied with the government. Following a coup plot in 2016, six journalists were sentenced to life in prison. In the past five years, Erdoğan has sued around 2,000 people for “insulting” him. As of this past spring, with the purchase of Doğan Media Group by a corporation loyal to Erdoğan, the Turkish government controls over 85% of national mainstream media. On January 8, 2019, journalist Pelin Ünker was convicted of “insulting a public official” and “libel” over two articles she had written discussing the “Paradise Papers”, which were 13.4 million “confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments by around 120 high-profile names from around the world.” The government now blocks over 220,000 websites and 150,000 URLs. It’s clear that the government has an enormous amount of control over the mainstream media and internet. 

Many journalists, however, consider the lack of solidarity between reporters and media workers another major cause of the fall in press freedom. Since Erdoğan became president in 2014, following 12 years as a major political player in the Turkish government, not only has he given himself executive powers by recently abolishing the country’s Parliament, but by also demanding Parliament pass a law in March forcing streaming and digital TV services “to register with Turkey’s media watchdog, known as RTUK, and abide by the same rules as television broadcasters. RTUK can impose penalties, revoke licences, force providers to censor or withdraw content, and ask the courts to block access to those who do not comply.” Additionally, Erdoğan has introduced more advanced and effective technology to block content. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), for example, is a technology through which all of the data sent to internet service providers is examined. DPI gives authorities the power to block only specific content as opposed to an entire website. This allows for the government ro read and analyze all unencrypted data processed through the DPI technology, and intervene if they feel necessary. Erdoğan also has the Turkey Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) utilize an “innovative but dangerous” certification method. The BTK has created “an insecure certificate” that shows an error code when a user attempts to visit a blocked site. Due to the advanced nature of such a code, the average citizen won’t realize that the website has been blocked. The free VPN and proxy services that allow citizens to access blocked sites can also be dangerous; most of them can access internet traffic, and might interfere with it, collecting information on everything the user does. 

All in all, Erdoğan has greatly decreased the press freedom of Turkish citizens and media workers since his rise to power in 2014, following a period of slight freedom in the 2000s. 

Islam in France

Over the years, France has amassed the largest Muslim population in the Western World. With nearly an eighth of its population hailing from Muslim origin, France has large numbers of citizens of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan descent, migrating from their home countries to France in search of employment or a new home. Although the state of France is secular in nature, a large majority of the Muslims continue to practice their religion in the French framework of laïcité, as personal religious beliefs must not infringe upon society as a whole. In November 2015, in the aftermath of the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, French authorities shut down three mosques for the first time, with extremist activities and radicalization being given as the reason. These rather deadly attacks changed the character of Islamist radicalization from a security threat, to a wide-scale societal problem. Former president François Hollande, and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls saw the central values of the state of France being challenged, and labeled these violent occurrences as attacks against fundamental secular and democratic values. With increasing public anxiety and ever-present tensions between the nation and its Muslim minority, France struggles to integrate this community while staying true to its roots.

Over the past year, current French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken out on his plans to “set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organized in France” in an effort to create an “Islam of France”. Successive governments, beginning in the 1980s, have attempted to generate a brand of Islam unique to France, with the double objective of integrating and assimilating the country’s Muslim minority and fighting Islamist extremism. The goal of this particular branch of Islam is to conform to pre-existing national values, markedly secularism, while remaining insusceptible to the radical Quran interpretations which have gained a following in select parts of the Muslim world. Although the objective to restructure Islam in France isn’t a new concept, Macron’s initiative is distinct in its viewpoints and outlook. Macron hopes to break ties with foreign funding in order to disconnect Muslim organizations in France from other Muslim majority countries. Macron also hopes to train imams in France, rather than sending them to the Middle East to train. This approach would center around cultural values, rather than religious texts, to keep with the secularism of the nation, and create a generation of imams “made in France”.

Although the spike in anti-Muslim sentiment following the attacks of 2015 and 2016 has receded significantly, many Muslims residing in France say this prejudice remains prevalent both socially and legally. From a 2004 law banning religious symbols in public schools, a 2010 law banning the full-face veil in public, the attempt to ban burqinis on beaches in 2016, and as of last January, the banning of religious clothing in National Assembly, 43% of the public considers Islam “incompatible with the values of the Republic”. For many Muslims, the concept of a French Islam created by the state appears to be a continuation of policies they view as tools of assimilation, instituted to stifle individual religious expression. According to Hakim El-Karoui, a fellow at the Institut Montaigne think tank, as well as one of the experts Macron hopes to consult in his efforts, the state of France should enable the emergence of a French Islam, rather than generate one itself. While he applauds Macron’s intentions to distance French Islam from the Islam of the Arab world, El-Karoui believes the plan should reach even farther, proposing a shift in responsibility from the government to the prominent French Muslims, who are only interested in the country they currently reside in, France.

President Emmanuel Macron has set forth the foundation to move forward with his unique ideas, but if the goal is to protect France from violent mindsets preached in the name of Islam, this approach, neglecting the demands of France’s diverse Muslim communities, may fall short. To form an Islam compatible with the values of France, the Muslim community needs to step up and take the lead in this mission.