The impact of the economic crisis on irregular migrants and asylum seekers has been profound. However, the dilemma faced by these groups should not be conceptualised only as a consequence of the crisis, as many of the issues that impact irregular migrants, such as the preponderance of seasonal labour and weak labour laws that are often not enforced, predate the onset of austerity. Nonetheless, the fallout from the measures put in place to address the crisis has amplified the pressure on irregular migrants. The informal sector no longer provides sufficient employment for all irregular migrants in the population. Beyond economic survival, the rise in xenophobia has led to a rise in societal risk, including violent attacks against migrants and exclusion. There has also been an apparently lasting change to the fabric of Greek society, notably the xenophobic trajectory of political discourse including the rise of the extreme right and the illiberal enforcement of the rule of law by the security forces.
However, securitisation is no longer limited to individual EU member states, and Greece has been under great pressure from the EU to prevent irregular migrants from entering its territory, while simultaneously filtering asylum applications. The large number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers trapped in Greece is partly attributable to EU policies and legislation. The Dublin Regulation, even in its revised form Dublin III, continues to penalise Greece, the first ‘safe country’ which irregular migrants enter, as it logjams the Greek asylum system. There has been very little solidarity and responsibility-sharing demonstrated so far within the EU to ensure the upkeep of the migrants’ full human rights.
Moreover, the attempt to seal the external borders has resulted both in the loss of life, for example the drowning of 22 migrants when two small boats capsized off the island of Samos in May 2014, but also has driven irregular migrants into the arms of unscrupulous human traffickers. The EU’s attempt to build a more ‘open and secure’ Europe, as stated in the recent Stockholm Programme has, so far, been limited to building ‘walls’ on the periphery of the continent. This securitisation of migration is well illustrated by the use of Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows (SOLID) funds and Frontex operations. Most of the SOLID funds given to Greece have been part of the External Borders Fund (EBF) used to secure the land border with Turkey; the construction and operation of detection centres and to support the forced and voluntary return of irregular migrants.