How Dictators Use Refugees

2014  On September 4, 2014, the top brass of the Hellenic Coast Guard held a rare press conference at their Piraeus headquarters. Commodore Yiannis Karageorgopoulos presented a series of slides showing the Aegean and Ionian seas, plus a portion of the east Mediterranean south of Crete, which comprise the Coast Guard’s vast jurisdiction. Against this he flashed the number of intercepted entries of migrants seeking refugee status — 1,627 in 2012, followed by 12,156 the following year. Arrivals in 2014 suggested that Greece was on track for 31,000 arrivals. This was an underestimation. The annual total that year would almost quadruple, to 43,938.  The Coast Guard’s concerns were very clear. Half of all the arrivals were Syrians. A third were Afghans. The Arab Spring that had resulted in regime change in Tunisia and Egypt and plunged Syria into catastrophe three years earlier was compounding the effects of America’s regime change efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which created lengthy insurgencies, to produce unprecedented waves of refugees, and these crises were growing worse. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which emerged in Iraq’s insurgency, had that summer taken control of Mosul, was slaughtering Yazidi in northern Iraq, and was marching across Syria. NATO’s destruction of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya had led to civil war there, further inflaming regional instability. The Greek authorities knew that this spontaneous population of asylum-seekers had created a human trafficking industry in Turkey, just a few miles from Greece’s easternmost Aegean islands. The vast majority of Coast Guard interceptions had taken place in the narrow straits between the Anatolian mainland and the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Leros. The smugglers were astute. They had launched refugees on inflatable dinghies with the following instructions: “When a Greek patrol boat appears, let them approach

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