Alexandros Avramidis / Reuters An Afghan mother covers herself and her children with a blanket while trying to reach the Greek-Macedonian border, following reports that Macedonia has closed its borders with Greece to Afghan migrants, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, February 21, 2016.

Europe's Closed-Door Policy

Letter From Skala Sikamineas

On the Greek island of Lesbos, everything awful and everything wonderful about humanity comes together. As rafts full of refugees wash ashore, pure terror from the death-defying journey turns first into euphoria at having made it this far and then into stress about the next steps in what is still a long journey ahead.

Even if what is happening on this island reveals only a tiny sliver of the suffering migrants face, it is enough to show that Europe is failing them—and itself. By closing ranks to protect European populations, the region’s politicians are breaking with long-held values and failing to alleviate the crisis. They must find a more European response to the wave of migrants, or this crisis could threaten the entire European project.

SO CLOSE, SO FAR

Skala Sikamineas, a small fishing village in the northern part of the island, is a prime destination for incoming refugees. The approximately seven-mile journey from Turkey is usually arranged by Turkish smuggling rings. The journey typically begins in the morning, since it is widely known that the Turkish coast guard does not begin patrolling until 11am. This raises the specter of coordination between the smugglers and the authorities. New support from NATO forces in the Aegean to help the Turkish authorities crack down on smuggling rings may not be as effective as hoped.

Graves of unidentified refugees and migrants who drowned at sea during an attempt to cross a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast are seen at a cemetery near the village Kato Tritos on the Greek island of Lesbos, February 4, 2016.

Graves of unidentified refugees and migrants who drowned at sea during an attempt to cross a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast are seen at a cemetery near the village Kato Tritos on the Greek island of Lesbos, February 4, 2016.

The journey across the Aegean may be short, but it is harrowing. Usually, Turkish smugglers jump off their rafts soon after the set out, appointing a refugee to drive the boat across the Aegean instead. As soon as the rafts cross into Greek territory, a boat from SeaWatch will rush out to meet it and try to corral the rafts toward the beachhead that is most suitable for landing. As the rafts approach the shore, volunteer lifeguards and rescue teams jump into the water, try to cut the rafts’ motors, and slowly bring them to land. This is, of course, if everything goes right. If something goes

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