Over the past several years, Greece has been increasingly strained by the tens of thousands of migrants reaching its shores. Perhaps more than ever before, Greece could potentially be close to the breaking point. Starting in Sweden and Denmark, governments across Europe have imposed new border restrictions, inadvertently creating a chain-reaction. In mid and late-January, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia announced new restrictions on migrants. Several governments, including Austria, are developing plans to cap the total number of migrants. Almost all the countries recently imposing border restrictions are focusing on original country of origin. The asylum process will increasingly prioritize migrants from conflict areas, particularly Syria. Over this past fall and winter, Macedonia has repeatedly closed important crossings at the Greek border with no warning. One closure on 21 January, for example, resulted in a backlog that took multiple days to clear. When such closures occur, many migrants are left without adequate food or shelter, creating a stressful situation that often results in violence.
The Wall Street Journal has quoted a confidential Bank of Greece report, which estimates the Greek Government could spend 600 million Euros in 2016 assisting migrants. The migrant-related costs could potentially reach 0.3% of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product. The operation of migrant reception centres could constitute 35% of the total cost, followed by search and rescue efforts 26%. Since the beginning of January, the UNHCR has reported that over 74,000 migrants have reached Greece alone. Over the course of 2015, over 821,000 migrants reached Greece, the vast majority doing so in small boats. Greek officials and international observers are expressing concerns that Greece will have to support tens of thousands more migrants in 2016 if border restrictions further north remain in effect. The European Agenda on Migration had been intended to ease the migrant-related pressures faced by the Italian and Greek governments. However, the European Commission announced on 10 February that only 218 migrants had been relocated from Greece. Only 15 European Member-States agreed to participate, providing a total of 1081 places (far below the 66,400 target).
As spring starts to approach, the total number of migrants attempting to reach Europe is anticipated to increase once again. As the European Union struggles to develop a coordinated approach, Greece will remain at the forefront of the migration crisis. Even with European Union and NATO support, it may well be unable to sustain tens of thousands more migrants, especially if many of them cannot travel further into Europe.