Migrant Crisis Calls for Bold Philanthropic Action

Europe was rocked by tragedy on August 28, when Austrian authorities found 71 dead refugees inside the back of a truck that had passed from Hungry into Austria. The truck was abandoned two days earlier, but the degree of decomposition of the bodies indicates that the migrants may have suffocated and died even before August 26. Authorities believe the victims to be Syrian refugees.

This tragic event was just one of many over the last month that has illuminated how pressing and massive the global refugee crisis is, as well as the problems facing EU member nations. Increasingly complex trafficking schemes are emerging to meet the demand of refugees, who are entering southern Europe at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, analysts are calling the crisis the single largest movement of people through Europe since World War II.

As Key Elements Group LLC has previously covered, the migrant crisis in Europe poses profound questions. The traditionally open-border mentality of many European nations is dissolving under economic strain and populist backlash – evident with the emergence of nativist, anti-immigrant and (in several nations) fascist political parties. What course that is both humane and politically feasible is possible? What role does philanthropy play in alleviating the suffering of migrants and helping host nations cope?

Over 72 hours at the end of August, cash-strapped Greece rescued over 2,500 migrants making the risky Mediterranean crossing between Turkey and the Greek archipelagos. Since June 1, approximately 142,000 migrants have entered Greece by sea, a number that amounts to nearly 13 percent of the Greek population. While migrants enter through several different points along Europe’s southern boarder – including Italy and Spain – Greece bears the brunt of the influx, a situation exacerbated by its fraught financial and political crises.

After entering Greece, many migrants pass into Macedonia, move through the Balkans and try to make it into wealthier European countries. The stress, difficulty, and complex social circumstances revolving around this system emerged on August 21 when Macedonian riot police fired stun grenades near a border crossing, causing a brief period of chaos and fear.

In the absence of meaningful public funding to address the crisis, philanthropic Greek citizens are stepping forward and offering what support they can – even while  tensions rise and some Greeks are losing patience. On the island of Lesbos, islanders have formed a nonprofit relief organization called Angalia – or “Hug” – that provides basic needs support to migrants rescued off the island’s shore. Yet balancing their own responsibilities (as well as the turmoil of their country’s political and economic systems), volunteers can only do so much, as one Lesbos resident and organizer for Angalia recently told the Wall Street Journal.

Fleeing the convoluted and violent civil war in their own country, many Syrians are effectively stateless, and require an immense and fully international assistance in order to regain a semblance or order and stability in their lives. As the Economist recently suggested, greater EU investment in refugee processing centers in Greece is a logical first step. Authorities will also probably have to expand current plans to resettle around 22,000 migrants. In order to break through the bureaucratic morass that prevents swift action on these sensitive and contentious issues, authorities should also invest in nonprofit initiatives that strive to assist and acclimate refugees entering Europe. This situation calls for a holistic, multi-lateral approach that integrates philanthropic relief across the entire geographic migrant route from Syria to Germany.

Nonprofit and NGO relief organizations are incapable of preventing the rising tension between refugee communities and Middle Eastern host countries such Jordan and Turkey. With increasingly hostile natives and crowded conditions, experts expect the situation in Europe to get even worse as people begin traveling north in the hope of better living conditions. Without bold action now, it may be difficult for future solutions to include the humanity and comprehensive assistance that the refugees deserve.

The Bailout and Greek Heritage: Is The Nation’s Past for Sale?

Late Wednesday night, Greece’s parliament passed austerity measures established by the recent bailout agreement. In response, sporadic violence flared up throughout Athens, alongside the more numerous peaceful protests decrying creditors’ imposition of further cuts in government spending.

Despite the agreement, Greece’s passing of structural reforms, and surprisingly broad support across the Eurozone for the bailout, the debt crisis drama is all but guaranteed to continue.

On Tuesday, the IMF announced that it would not participate in any plan that does not include debt restructuring – a policy deeply unpopular with powerful EU fiscal hawks German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble. Without either a “haircut” – a reduction in the overall debt burden – or the establishment of a generous timeframe to pay back debts, many analysts are pessimistic about the austerity package’s chance of success.

The measures require Greece to unload €50 billion in state assets, much of which will be sold off to pay back creditors. This could have a huge impact on Greece’s fine arts, cultural, and historical institutions, which have already suffered from an economic crisis that some economists consider worse than the United States’ Great Depression.

Denys Zacharopoulos – the artistic director of the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki – sums up the anemic state of arts and culture funding: “The first things to suffer under the government’s austerity plan have been culture, education and health.”

Structured as a nonprofit foundation and largely dependent on state funding, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art has seen its funding shrink from a peak of €500,000 in 2006, to just $180,000 in 2015 – a 64 percent drop off. These kind of budget shortfalls are staggering, and can make a huge difference in an institution’s ability to deliver on its mission.

Many other arts, cultural, and historical institutions are struggling, some with only enough funding to pay salaries. Scheduled exhibitions have been indefinitely delayed, and the planned construction of a new contemporary museum in Athens has been called off. Decreased funding impacts cultural institutions in other ways; in February 2012, for example, priceless artifacts were stolen from a museum in Olympia during an armed robbery. Archaeologists blamed security cuts.

Many monuments and structures – including the iconic Parthenon – are owned by the Greek state. As details emerge concerning airports, sea ports, rail lines, and energy providers that face privatization under the terms of the bailout agreement, the question arises: will Greece’s cultural heritage be up for sale? 

Greece’s constitution features a robust framework for defending the nation’s artifacts and historical sites mandating public funding and protection. But if there is one thing fully evident with the recent bailout agreement, it is that Greece’s laws and referendums have little bearing on the demands of the nation’s creditors.

Regardless of the obligations delineated in the bailout agreement, special consideration for Greece’s remarkable heritage is in order. By removing the country’s capacity to steward and share its own past and cultural traditions, creditors are poised to rip away a powerful tool for national healing and cohesion during these difficult times.

Children and Greece’s Debt Crisis

In 2014, UNICEF commissioned a Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HSBC) survey, asking 11-, 13-, and 15- year olds how they have experienced the great recession in Greece. The findings are instructive – and tragic.


Philanthropy Supports Struggling Greece

As Greece scrambles to produce a list of economic reforms to satisfy its creditors, it is still unclear whether or not the Mediterranean nation and its primary negotiating partners will reach an agreement that keeps the Hellenic Republic in the Eurozone.

The country’s debt crisis has proved intractable. Following the onset of the 2008 recession, Greece has struggled tremendously. A list of austerity measures – including privatizations and pension reforms – has left much of the population reeling financially.

Economists initially projected only a few tough years before the economy rebounded. Instead, unemployment rates are currently higher than those of the United States during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. Some fear that an exit from the Eurozone will leave a collapsed economy, and an exacerbated humanitarian crisis that could threaten the population’s access to basic needs items.

Strict credit controls have limited the amount of cash available to Greek citizens. As the nation quickly depletes the remaining bank reserves, the future – no matter which way it goes – promises to be difficult.

Outside of the economic effects that a “Grexit” would have on the philanthropic sector, there is another charitable angle to the crisis: foundation and nonprofit support for struggling Greek citizens.

A number of philanthropic entities have sought to mitigate the social effects of the great recession. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), for example, initiated an ambitious three-year program in 2012 aimed at alleviating the worst effects of Greece’s economic crisis. After spending $130,000 million on 200 grants – primarily on social welfare, but on arts and education as well – the program benefited nearly 500,000 individuals, or 4.5 percent of the nation’s population. The grants also sustained 3,000 jobs, and is believed to have doubled the economic impact of the grant monies issued.

But the SNF initiative and the work of other smaller philanthropic groups in the extensive Greek diaspora still fall way short of the support needed by a population without opportunity and a diminishing social safety net.

The country’s path over the seven years following the global recession has been rocky, painful, and socially devastating. Greece’s economy has retracted by 25 percent since 2009, and its unemployment rate hovers around 25.6 percent. Its youth unemployment fares even worse, sitting just shy of 50 percent. Those without work are increasingly less likely to find it – 75.3 percent of the country’s unemployed were without work the preceding year. Greece has seen a 35 percent suicide rate increase since the initiation of harsh austerity measures in 2011.

The problems that Greece faces are variegated and require comprehensive relief efforts from government institutions, foundations, and nonprofits. While many media reports choose to focus on the mere economics, the real human impact is jarring. Some generous individuals, however, are beginning to take notice, and are making charitable gestures that could compel others to act.

A tragic photo that emerged this week depicted an elderly Greek pensioner crying outside of a bank. James Koufos, an Australian business man, recognized the gentleman as an old school friend of his father’s. Moved by the photo, Koufos requested that anyone in the Greek public with the man’s contact information step forward, offering to pay his pension. He stated that he “will never allow to see a fellow Greek proud hardworking man starve.”

As the human toll becomes more apparent, other philanthropists and donors may come out of the woodwork to help citizens bogged by depression, betrayed by the nefarious and disingenuous dealings of their country’s political and economic elites, and deprived of the resources they spent their working lives to secure.

Philanthropy and the Greek Debt Crisis

Following the break-down in talks between Greece’s political leadership and the country’s creditors – also known as the “troika,” including the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank – Greece’s financial crisis has entered its eleventh hour.

While the drama is still playing out, it is all but guaranteed to have an impact on the global economy – including the philanthropic sector. 

Last minute attempts on Tuesday from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to secure a third bailout faltered, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that there would be no further negotiations until the results of Greece’s July 5 referendum on the current bailout package become known. Leaders across Europe argue that the referendum is a de facto vote for Greece to either remain in the Eurozone or leave.

On Tuesday evening, Greece has become the first developed nation to default to the IMF, missing a €1.6 billion loan repayment, entering insolvency and quickly approaching bankruptcy. The country also has the distinction of being the first European Union member to default on its creditors.

The global effects of the crisis are already taking shape. In Asia, stock markets fell 3 percent on Monday, while Europe dipped 4 percent in anticipation of the Greek default.

International turmoil this year has had little effect on U.S. markets. In fact, the U.S. exchange has gone through the longest post-recession stretch of time without a 5 percent sell-off. Additionally, the United States has little direct economic interest in Greece; the nation amounts to less than 1 percent of U.S. trade.

The real threat is the spillover that would occur from European markets, which would take a serious hit following a Greek default and a “Grexit” from the European Union. The biggest fears rest on the potential backlash, which could involve investors pulling money out of struggling Eurozone countries including Italy, Spain, and Portugal, as well as potential bank runs in those nations.

If the more pessimistic projections prove correct and the default and “Grexit” rattle global markets, the result could be a huge blow for the philanthropic sector, which is just now enjoying a return to pre-recession levels. Indeed, the sector broke a new record last year, raising $358.4 billion. This extraordinary feat – which defied predictions that it would take ten years for philanthropy to recover – was aided significantly by increased giving from corporations and foundations, which outpaced the rate of growth for individual giving.

As a Stanford report details, foundation and corporate giving are heavily influenced by stock market trends, and dip accordingly when markets take big hits. This means that, should the United States fall victim to the financial fallout of “Grexit,” the fastest recovering segment of philanthropic giving would face a hurdle to its robust rebound.

Nothing is certain yet. The referendum on creditors’ bailout demands is this Sunday, and a yes vote may pave the way for further talks that will mitigate Greece’s technical default and generate a plan to continue pumping Greek banks with funding in order to return the nation to solvency. But pending these compromises and deals, the philanthropy of corporations and foundations could face the detrimental effects of a sliding market. 

Migrants in Greece Face Inhumane Detention, Organized Hate

[This is part 2 in a 2 part series on migrants in Europe]

In our previous installment on Europe’s migrant crisis, we explored the April 9 disaster that claimed hundreds of lives. A boat carrying an estimated 900 people capsized, drowning hundreds. The catastrophe occurred following the discontinuation of Italy’s operation Mare Nostrum, which balanced border enforcement with humanitarian aid, and was responsible for saving thousands of migrant lives. A new European Union-led operation – fronted by the union’s border control agency Frontex – has since taken over, with a significantly smaller budget, fewer personnel and boats, and a singular focus of enforcing border security over humanitarian aid.

EU foreign and interior ministers met in an emergency session following the April 9 incident – termed a “massacre” by the UNHCR – to hash out new guidelines for the union’s policy in the Mediterranean. Critics have called several of the measures – including plans to sink smugglers’ boats – a militarization of policy, ill-suited for dealing with the growing number of desperate refugees planning to enter Europe. The plan additionally calls for an increased budget, as well as a resettlement plan that would offer asylum to some refugees across the EU’s 28 member nations.

Yet another European nation that has been in the news – albeit for different reasons – is coping with a spike of migrants: Greece. 

While Italy and Spain – two other top destinations for migrants trying to enter Europe – are struggling economically, Greece is in particularly dire straits. The nation’s sovereign debt crisis is an ongoing source of consternation for EU and IMF officials. The media is rife with talks of default and of a potential “Grexit” from the European Union – which would imperil the very premise of the union’s mission and identity.

With Greece’s cash-strapped government and its population disaffected with bailout-mandated austerity and ridicule from the international media, the nation’s economic and social environment is not equipped to adequately and humanely deal with the influx of migrants.

Mainstream politicians across the European continent have kept a weary eye on populist, anti-immigrant groups popping up throughout the union. Among the most virulent and hateful of these groups is Greece’s Golden Dawn – a neo-nazi group with its own paramilitary that has been implicated in a number of assaults and murders. Benefitting from the economic downturn and the heterogenization of European society, Golden Dawn and other extreme right-wing parties are providing a frightening, hateful, and ultimately very dangerous outlet for people who feel helpless.

While its leadership has since been charged with operating a criminal organization (the trial was recently postponed) and its electoral popularity has shrunk, the relative success of Golden Dawn in attracting a base of support nonetheless reflects the disastrous consequences of underfunded, non-holistic, and piecemeal approaches to the continent’s inter-related migrant and domestic social crises.

Detained migrants live in squalid, dehumanizing environments that fuel the demeaning and racist perceptions propagated by groups like Golden Dawn. From exacerbated health to diminished life prospects and social standing, migrants’ living conditions – generated through government neglect, inhumane policy, and underfunding –  ultimately make the process of otherization easier for hate groups.

As Doctors without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) has noted, many migrants face indefinite detention with little to no medical care, often kept in unsanitary and confined environments. The organization has provided care for some migrants who have been detained for over six years, evidence of a policy that permits Greek authorities to let migrants languish until they volunteer to head back to their nation of origin. Many of these migrants, of course, are refugees, and simply do not have the option to self-deport. Invisible Suffering – an MSF report six years in the making – details a number of disorders plaguing detainees, including upper respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal diseases, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic disorders.

Solving the migrant crisis while improving migrants’ living condition will not be easy, especially in a county whose citizens are reeling from economic insecurity and many of whom are dependent on charitable social services such as soup kitchens (indeed, one of the ways that Golden Dawn appealed for support was by offering food and other forms of social assistance to struggling Greeks). Nonetheless, it is often necessary to step back and see the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate social issues. By exploring the ways in which the plight of migrants, struggling Greeks, and hateful political ideologies are part of the same puzzle, NGOs, government officials, and aid works can begin to construct new and nuanced strategies for ameliorating these issues.

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