• 28 FEB 16
    • 0

    European coastal planning must deal with refugee crisis issue

    Faced with emergency situation of unprecedented waves of asylum-seekers and migrants, many of whom drown or narrowly escape drowning on the way, European coastal regulation and planning must help provide tools to save lives and manage the population flows, argues Prof. Konstantinos Lalenis of the University of Thessaly, a partner of the Mare Nostrum Project.

    Particularly, Lalenis sees the coastal setback zone as an element that could be of use in crisis situations, especially during the more perilous winter months.

    “The criterion of setting a 100-meter coastal strip could provide enough space to handle the initial reception of the refugees. As public land, there would be no opposition by private landowners or developers, who want to build resorts. I believe that can provide sufficient infrastructure for receiving refugees.”

    Zones set aside for smooth landing on the beach would help make the trek safer for children and pregnant women, and help ease transfer to inland installations for first aid and initial processing, he said. As current Greek coastal legislation defines coastal setback zones as having a maximum width of 50 meters, expanding them to 100 meters minimum would require new legislation.

    “Setback zones could be crucial for when we are dealing with huge numbers of refugees in the winter time, and they have immediate need for help.”

    PROEMAID

    Source: Proem-Aid

    Keeping in line with the environmental and socio-economical justifications of the 100-meter coastal setback zone, any such structures would “not be of a permanent nature,” Lalenis said, but added that environmental concerns sometimes have to come second.

    “Nobody can deny the environmental impacts. After receiving refugees, the coasts are covered by safety vests, plastic bottles and other litter. Nevertheless, if you combine the environmental issue with the human question, you get priorities. Saving peoples’ lives is an absolute priority. There is a human dimension. It is difficult to imagine the horror, bodies of kids going up and down on the waves. And the most awful thing is that we’re getting used to it.”

    On one recent day alone, 2000 refugees crossed the sea between Turkey and Greece, and 413 people in nine plastic boats were saved from drowning. Cause for celebration, as the day before 26 had drowned. “We said in the summer that it is because of the summer, and that in the winter the numbers would decrease. And now that it’s winter, the flow is continuing and in even more dangerous conditions. Now we can assume that this will be the situation for the near future, maybe three to five years.”

    The Greek Minister of Defense has announced that four of Greece’s five new migrant registration centers are “ready to function and welcome refugee”. The four “hotspot” centers will open on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Leros and Samos and a fifth centre on the island of Kos, will be ready soon. They are to be located inland, not on the beaches themselves, Lalenis noted. Refugees are supposed to be kept there for not longer than 24 hours and then transferred to the second level reception centers. Reception centers of the second level are planned for the mainland, in the areas of Schisto, and Sindos. Refugees are supposed to stay there for not longer than 72 hours and then travel to the country that grants them asylum, or sent back to their countries of origin, if they are not recognized as refugees.

    Lalenis also stressed the importance of cross-border and international cooperation in handling the mass migration. Better cooperation between Greece, Turkey and the EU’s Frontex agency would make the job of unethical handlers more difficult and save lives, while lessening environmental impacts. Areas along the Greek coast are in need of external support in terms of know-how and finances. “The whole issue of the refugee crisis does not only affect Greece, Italy and Malta, but all of the EU and all of the civilized world. International cooperation should not even be discussed. It is simply needed.”

    Miguel A Rodriguez

    Source: Miguel A. Rodríguez

    The conflicts of interest – both internationally and within the countries involved, primarily tourism-dependent areas and sectors – will only become starker if no solutions are found and the situation continues for another few years, Lalenis predicted.

    He noted that at the beginning of the Mare Nostrum Project, discussion about  integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) focused on such things as setbacks, land uses, environmental considerations, “then, all of the sudden, you have dead children washing up on the beaches. This raises the question, should the national coastal zone authorities address this issue? Coastal zone management should take the refugees into consideration, among the other aspects considered – social, marine, and environmental.”

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