Every time Athens pushes a refugee boat away, it’s the result of an entire continent acting in its perceived self-interest
A dinghy carrying refugees from Gambia and the Republic of the Congo approaches Lesbos, Greece, in February 2020. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images
Avital part of international refugee law is the principle of non-refoulement: the idea that states should not push people seeking asylum back to unsafe countries. In a country like the UK, which does not sit next to a war zone, advocates of “tougher” policies to deter asylum seekers will claim that the principle does not apply, since people who reach Britain’s shores will have passed through several peaceful countries before they get there.
But if every country looks only to its own interests, and behaves as if asylum seekers are someone else’s problem, then you very quickly end up with a system that traps people in situations where their lives are at risk. That is the system bequeathed by Europe’s panicked response to the 2015 refugee crisis, and in recent months, partly under cover of the emergency conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, it has got worse.