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David T C Davies: Why send aid to India when it is needed on our doorstep - in Greece?

DAVIES DAVIDDavid T C Davies is Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and is MP for Monmouth

What do you think about, when you think about Greece? In recent years, perhaps their economy - but also that it is a first world country, member of the EU, even its beautiful weather and beaches. But on a recent Council of Europe visit, I witnessed a country not just hampered by the financial crisis caused by the straitjacket of the Euro but plunging into social chaos, too.

I have deep reservations about sending taxpayers money abroad, but if we are going to do so there is a case for providing foreign aid closer to home. Greece, a nation of 10million people, is now struggling to contain a million illegal asylum seekers. The streets of Athens, away from the city centre, are starting to become a battleground between gangs of illegal immigrants, and neo-Nazi vigilantes.

Millions of the worlds poor from Africa Asia and the Middle East are heading to Europe in search of a better life, and for many Greece is the first country they arrive at. Expecting to find the streets paved with gold, they instead find a country which is bust, with little patience or resources for new arrivals. Hundreds of thousands of young men congregate in Athens with no money, job, home or papers. Local people feel insecure and accuse the migrants of being responsible for a crime wave.

Cuts to pay and funding, at levels unthinkable in the UK, have left the Greek police understaffed and demoralised - and in no position to deal with the problem. In their absence support has been growing for a Neo-Nazi party called Golden Dawn. Marching through the streets in black uniforms, they demand to see the papers of any traders who look foreign and violently smash up their stalls if they are not satisfied.

I visited a square which we were told was under the control of Golden Dawn. The migrants who used to congregate there had been moved on violently. An Orthodox Priest I spoke to was supportive of the action, as was a senior police officer I met who claimed that Greeks were showing their frustration. We were being openly observed throughout the hour we spent there.

Golden Dawn have 18 seats in the parliament and are expected to do far better at the next elections. In response the government, desperate to be seen to be doing something, have taken to publicly rounding up paperless migrants in the city. Most quietly released a few hours later but some are locked up for a year just for having no papers. It’s a high-profile campaign curiously titled Operation Xenios Zeus, which translates as ‘Hospitality’. I have spoken up many times in Parliament to support a greater use of prison and the immediate deportation of bogus migrants. But I would never support detaining anyone in inhumane conditions for 12 months simply for having incorrect paperwork.

In eight years as a Special Constable, I have seen many police detention facilities in the UK. They are basic but humane places to keep people for a few days. The facility I saw in Athens would have been similarly acceptable to keep about six people in for to to three days. Instead. about 30 people were crammed in and were being kept there for a year. There was one shower but no TV, no sign of books, no segregation for prisoners and very little lighting. The only relieve from boredom were the cigarettes supplied by friends, and, surprisingly, by Greek police officers who openly told me how angry they were that they were being forced to keep people in such conditions.

30 people of a range of nationalities kept in a dim airless giant cage with no access to any facilities for a period of a year. This, in a first world country, is simply unacceptable. What should worry us all is that most of the migrants I spoke to, in and out of jail had one thing in common - they all want to come to the UK. This would be a disaster for us, undermining wages, schools, the NHS and our benefits system.

I have never been able to support the increase in the foreign aid budget at a time when we are having to make cuts elsewhere. A few years ago I visited an African country which receives a large amount of UK aid and saw for myself the luxury cars its MPs can afford to drive around in. However, it could be in our interest to divert some of our foreign aid away from corrupt African dictatorships towards a collapsing European democracy. There are sound reasons for funding border guards, humane detention facilities, and the swift deportation of illegal immigrants into Greece back to their country of origin. If we do not tackle the crisis with the Greek borders then it will quickly become a crisis on our border or worse still inside our border.


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