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Open Dialogue on Migration & the Refugee Crisis

On Tuesday, February 7, a discussion on the refugee and immigration crisis in Europe took place at Deree, in the context of the international workshop ALIEN Project LivingLab#2. The event was organized by the Institute of Diplomacy and Global Affairs – Office of Public Affairs at The American College of Greece, in cooperation with the EUMIGRO Project, and the International Business Department at Deree.

The discussion aimed to open a dialogue on one of the pressing issues of migration and the refugee crisis, with speakers from the international academic community and NGOs, as well as the Deputy Minister for Migration Policy, Yiannis Balafas.

The event aimed to link the academic community – students and professors from Greece and abroad – with their direct stakeholders and promote a constructive dialogue on this key issue.

Minister Yiannis Balafas delivered the opening speech in which he presented data on the current refugee situation, stating that 36 camps are operating in the Greek mainland, hosting 500-600 people each. He noted that the number of incoming refugees has dropped significantly since the agreement between the European Union and Turkey, and that significant efforts are being made to strengthen the Asylum Office and decompress the situation on the islands. Finally, Mr. Balafas stressed that violence and walls are not the solution. He stated that, “Democratic Europe must find a solution satisfying for all parts involved, and especially for the refugees”, adding that “Bridges maybe harder to build than walls, but they are far more effective.”

A panel discussion followed, coordinated by Dr. Anna Visvizi, Assistant Professor at Deree, economist, and political scientist. Deputy Mayor of Athens, Lefteris Papagiannakis, specializing in immigrant and refugee issues, and Martha Roussou from OXFAΜ, talked about the close cooperation of the public bodies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), while they stressed the need to support NGOs, now a valuable ally of the Greek state in the humanitarian crisis management.

With refugee integration as the main axis of the discussion, Dr. Eliades, Advisor to the Vice Chair of Defence and International Relations at the Hellenic Parliament, said that changing mentality is a two-way process – both from the part of the refugees and from the host country’s residents. Dr. Christianna Leahy, Professor of Comparative Politics at McDaniel College, USA, spoke about the crisis from an International Law standpoint and raised the issue of the wall-building on the U.S.-Mexican border, saying that this is unthinkable to most Americans, as the U.S. are in their majority a nation of immigrants. Dr. Marta Pachocka, Professor at the Warsaw School of Economics and Coordinator of the EUMIGRO Project, stressed the need for a joint European policy to tackle the humanitarian crisis; the discussion also revolved around questions touching upon solidarity, humanitarian law and the need for co-ordinated efforts from different bodies.

Following the discussion, and under the supervision of the speakers, groups of students discussed and proposed solutions on specific topics. Developing an educational framework to address islamophobia, educating the public on the integration process, taking individual actions in support of refugee rights, were some of the topics on the agenda.

Similar events are organized on a weekly basis by the Institute of Diplomacy and Global Affairs (IDGA), in order to promote the exchange of knowledge and foster an open dialogue on current issues of international relations.