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.  

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