Meeting at CIDOB with Spyros Galinos, Lesbos’ Major

MIGRACIONES - 16/3/2016

Spyros Galinos, Mayor of Greek island Lesbos, situated at 6 km from Turkey, is the person in charge of managing directly the critical situation in what is one of the main entry points to Europe.

Spyros Galinos, Mayor of Greek island Lesbos, Jordi Bacaria, CIDOB Director, Ignasi Calbo, Coordinator of Barcelona Council’s plan “Barcelona Refugee City Programme” and Elena Sánchez-Montijano, Senior Research Fellow in Migration issues at CIDOB, reunited this afternoon at Barcelona Centre for International Affairs to discuss the international management of the refugees crisis from the perspective of local governance, mainly focused in Lesbos Island. After analyzing the structural problems of the EU-Turkey agreement and its foreseen effects, Spyros Galinos explains the practical challenges that his Municipality is faced with when dealing with the biggest refugee crisis since WWII, and sets out solutions from his local perspective. Finally, Ignasi Calbo and Spyros Galinos presented the Friendship and Collaboration Plan signed among Barcelona and the European municipalities most affected by the refugees crisis: Lesbos and Lampedusa. 

Spyros Galinos, Mayor of Greek island Lesbos, situated at 6 km from Turkey, is the person in charge of managing directly the critical situation in what is one of the main entry points to Europe. Galinos claims that Europe hasn’t been able to work out a solution yet because it hasn’t understood nor tackled the origin of the refugee crisis: the war. As he pointed out “as long as the bombs will be dropped on people’s heads, they will keep fleeing their home-countries.” But until the war won’t be stopped and stability be reestablished, he believes that Europe needs to find an effective way to manage the crisis, which is not the current one. Also, he believes that at the basis of the problem, stand the fact that the European Union and National governments haven’t comprehended yet that refugees are simply the victims of the war, which is, lastly, the “sin of great power politics”.


He sets out the devastating effects arising from Europe’s current position and actions: 

First, he claims that Europe, instead of complying to the humanitarian and moral duty to protect refugees and promoting solidarity, is building walls, spreading xenophobia, and causing the emergence and dissemination of  small local crisis along its borders. 

Secondly, the EU-Turkey agreement will not stop refugees from trying to reach Greece, but will instead make people go repetitively back and forth among Turkey and Greece, and be sent back just to attempt crossing the waters again. This means increasing the number of refugees that will entrust themselves to the illegal smugglers network, which implies leaving to the latter the management of the crisis, allowing it to expand and exploit a growing number of people. 

The solution that he believes to be the key to such problem, lay in the proposal that has been recently made to the European Commission and Parliament: the establishment of a Registration Process of the refugees based in mainland Turkey, which, according to previously established equal shares among European countries, would allow refugees to depart directly to their final destinations. 

When Elena Sánchez-Montijano, Senior Researcher in Migration issues, asks him to describe the local situation and how the Municipality and the citizens are dealing with the crisis, Galinos response was singularly calm: “In Lesbos, the refugee crisis caught us by surprise. Numbers were overwhelming and we were unprepared. But Lebos citizens, despite the economic crisis that is still affecting their families, knew we had a moral duty to open our doors, at least locally, in a time when countries were closing their borders. We knew that we could be in their shoes at any time, and therefore, we tried to treat them as we would like to be treated if we ourself, were refugees.” 

He then explained how, when refugees started to arrive, the primary issues they had to address was accommodation and transport: the municipality had to build two accommodation centers, and commission ferries for the transportation of refugees to mainland Greece. Moreover, in spite of already being one of the main points of entry to Europe, Lesbos offered to resettle permanently 25.000 refugees in on the island: more than the 20.000 that the UK approved to resettle in one whole year. Furthermore, the Mayor repeated many times along his discourse how important has been the help of NGOs, European volunteers and that the collaboration with Greek central government has so far been exceptional. 

Addressing Ignasi Calbo, coordinator of Barcelona Council’s plan Barcelona Refugee City, he expresses his gratefulness for the concrete help and moral support received from the Municipality of Barcelona, and his optimism for the new Friendship and Collaboration agreement and the new network of cities that joined forces to fight the crisis: “if governments can’t manage the crisis, municipalities will”. By saying that, he reminds that this doesn’t mean that local authorities are willing to replace the role of the central government, but instead that their aim is providing practical response needed, taking advantage from the fact that local administration is the government closer to the local people.