Michael O'Connell-Davidson

Forget Syria: a weak Greece endangers us all

Forget Syria: a weak Greece endangers us all
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There is nothing waiting for people who leave school in Greece today. It does not matter how much young Greeks might be able to give to their nation, because their nation has little to give them in return. Over the weekend, The Times reported that young Greek women are selling sex for as low as €2. Some are even exchanging sessions for cheese pasties, because they cannot afford to eat.

It’s not just young Greeks who are suffering. Pensioners are being squeezed by Greece’s creditors, and drugs thrive amongst the homeless in Athens. Election after election has only served to make the country's political crisis worse, with the second general strike in a month going ahead today. If recovery is possible, then it will take years to rebuild. And worst of all? Nobody seems to care.

But Greece's problems stretch beyond its financial woes. As Europeans are now starting to discover, a weak Greece is not only an economic threat, but a security threat, too. Over the past fortnight, there have been reports that two of the suicide bombers who attacked France passed through Greece into Europe after being radicalised in the Middle East. Given the sheer volume of new arrivals - over 110,000 in November alone - it’s unlikely that these are the only two radicals to enter the continent via the Hellenic Republic.

Nobody has any right to be surprised when politicians across the continent have condemned the country to the scrapheap. After all, if Greece cannot look after its own people, can it really be expected to undertake the serious task of processing hundreds of thousands of refugees a year?

In choosing to couple punitive measures with the bailout in August, European leaders may well have satisfied domestic electorates who were tired of throwing money at a problem that would not go away. But their revenge came at a price, damaging the prospect of a Greek recovery. Now, because nobody anticipated the sheer scale of the challenge facing Europe today, one of its weakest nations is the most exposed to the current crisis. This has left Europe in danger. Not the European project, which is partially responsible for this mess, but Europe as a continent, and the lives of the millions vulnerable to domestic terrorism who live here.

The nature of the Schengen Area means that it is much easier to travel within Europe than it is to cross into the continent in the first place, so border controls are only as effective as the weakest entry point. A Greek mistake, then, can easily turn into another country’s problem, with most new arrivals bound for countries other than the Hellenic Republic. The risk is all too real: criminal gangs have taken root in Greece in order to profit from the crisis, selling fake documents to the desperate.

In an ideal world, a strong Greece would form an essential part of an outer ring of European nations with comprehensive border controls that would enable us to fulfil our humanitarian obligations and keep people safe. Instead, the country where the majority of refugees disembark is ill-equipped and unlikely to recover from its own troubles any time soon. Another economic shock could cause the entire system to fall apart.

Last night, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to enter the conflict in Syria, and the timing couldn’t be worse. This intervention may prove to degrade Isis and make people across the continent safer, but we cannot be certain it will. More pressingly, it may not be enough: there have long been reports of Isis expanding into Libya, taking advantage of what our previous intervention left behind, and it could soon be the case that we find ourselves having a debate on whether or not we should return there.

What we can be certain of is that it will, at least in the short term, displace even more people - and there is no sign Europe will be any more able to deal with the current crisis when they start to arrive. The International Rescue Committee estimates that 2,000 people arrive in Greece each day, a figure that will inevitably rise. While considering how to solve problems in the Middle East, European leaders seem to have forgotten the problems at home.

The system is already at breaking point. Leaders across Europe must now show genuine political will to avert the nightmare scenario of a bankrupt Greece finding itself unable to handle arrivals. Not only does this outcome threaten a humanitarian crisis. It threatens everybody, as those who seek to do us harm would be given a golden opportunity to sneak in amidst the chaos.