When traveling, blog postings are time consuming, but it’s the best way to maintain a fresh, up-to-date travel diary. My blog is a personal account that I share with others interested in the counties and sites visited.
According to WordPress stats, many people visit my blog site, but few comment. Feedback is interesting, but since my goal isn’t getting likes or accumulating followers, it’s not something that drives me. Memories are the most important. I’ve decided to make my travel blog “private,” but occasionally share special posts about my most interesting travel experiences. Moving forward, I’ll be focusing on living the adventures and immersing myself in local culture, while spending less time writing blog posts.
Athens to Prague
I’ve been in Athens for two months and am leaving for Prague August 30 – eagerly anticipating cooler temperatures. My challenge at the moment is packing summer clothing to send back to the US – never a fun exercise. During the last few days in Athens, I’ve decided to focus on major things happening in Greece, versus sharing personal experiences as a solo traveler.
Major Issues in Greece Right Now
Like many ancient civilizations, Greece has a captivating but volatile history. As with all countries (including the US), it faces many challenges. The Greek debt crisis is beyond my comprehension – no matter how many articles I read or who explains it to me. Billed as “the biggest financial rescue of a bankrupt country in history,” the debt crisis definitely has had and continues to have a severe impact on Greece and, in turn, tourists.
I briefly summarize three of Greece’s current and most pressing issues below – increase in covid cases, potential Afghanistan migrants, and a heatwave with out-of-control wildfires. Ironically, many areas of the US are battling some of the same issues.
From country to country, I’ve noticed WordPress stats indicating that there are many locals following my blog posts relating to their geographic area. In addition to Greece, this was also true in Serbia and Istanbul. I try to stick to the facts, but occasionally inject my own views, purely based on what I’ve observed in person during my time in each country. So far, I haven’t been escorted out of any countries, and I hope that continues!
Covid in Greece
Health authorities in Athens are “sounding the alarm regarding a recent rise in coronavirus cases, despite the fact that a large number of local residents are away on summer holiday”. According to Nikolaos S. Thomaidis, University of Athens Professor of Analytical Chemistry, a “high viral load has stabilized in Athens, despite a significant seasonal reduction in population”.
Rising Covid Infection Numbers
Experts foresee a further increase in covid cases, as vacationers return to Athens later in August. An increase in covid infections is not only happening in Athens, but also nationwide. It’s becoming a “cause for increasing concern”.
“Coronavirus deaths on Friday, August 20, reached 30 for the first time since June 8, and the coverage rate of ICU beds available hit 67 percent”. Health authorities confirmed 768 new cases in Athens. Experts warn of a 4th Covid-19 wave in Greece in August 2021. The Delta variant is fueling the rise in numbers.
Recently, Greece implemented a compulsory Covid-19 vaccination measure for most workers. There have been large-scale protests in Athens against Covid-19 immunizations, and a significant portion of the Greek population refuses vaccination. The government is “reviewing exemption applications for people who claim they are unable to be vaccinated for health reasons”.
A recent online platform “allows young Greek teenagers and adults from the age of 18 to 25 who get vaccinated to receive a prepaid card with 150 Euros of credit. They can use the credit for accommodation, travel, music events, cinemas, and visits to archeological sites”.
“Tourism accounts for a fifth of the Greek economy, and the country was hoping for a recovery this summer, after a historic low number of visitors and revenue in 2020, due to the covid pandemic.” BalkanInsight
Of course I’m fully vaccinated, or I wouldn’t be traveling, but Greece’s changing covid status in the EU can affect my ability to travel to other countries, like Czech Republic. I only have a few more days in Greece, but it’s something I’m monitoring closely. I may be required to present both a negative PCR test and proof of vaccination to enter Czech Republic.
August Covid Restrictions
In August, to contain the spread of Covid-19, Greece “imposed a nighttime curfew and banned music concerts on two popular tourist islands”. The restrictions muddle attempts to “rebuild a tourist sector hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, while the country experiences a protracted heatwave and battles massive, devastating wildfires”.
The areas affected by current restrictions are the islands of Mykonos and Zakynthos, and the city of Chania in Crete. On Zakynthos, the “epidemiological load worsened by 69 percent from a week earlier. In Chania, it rose 54 percent”. I’ve also heard rumors that depending on new covid statistics, lockdown restrictions may be imposed again in Athens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Afghan Migrants and Refugees
“Greece recently completed building a 40-km (25 mile) fence on its border with Turkey. to deter border crossings. The country implemented a new hi-tech, electronic surveillance system, to stop asylum seekers trying to reach Europe following the August 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.” Current events in Afghanistan have “fed fears in the European Union of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis that was fueled by the Syrian Civil War“.
During the 2015 crisis, “nearly a million people fleeing war and poverty crossed into Greece from Turkey, before travelling north to wealthier countries”. Greece was on the frontline of the migrant crisis, and has said its “border forces are currently on alert to make sure it doesn’t become Europe’s gateway again”.
“In 2015, the main route for refugees and migrants to Europe shifted from the dangerous Mediterranean crossing of Libya to Italy, to what would prove to be an even deadlier crossing from Turkey to Greek Islands, like Lesvos.” UN Refugee Agency
After visiting the Evros region of Macedonia and Thrace, Defence and Citizens’ Protection Minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, said the Afghanistan crisis has created “possibilities for new EU migrant flows”. He told reporters that Greece “cannot wait passively for the potential migrant impact” and promised that Greek will “remain safe and inviolable”.
Turkey Agreement 2016
In 2016, the EU agreed to a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants, in exchange for financial support. Since then, migrant arrivals to Greece, by land or sea, has “slowed to a trickle”.
“According to the EU-Turkey Statement, all new irregular migrants and asylum seekers arriving from Turkey to the Greek islands whose applications for asylum have been declared inadmissible, should be returned to Turkey.”
Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met on August 20 to discuss Afghanistan and plans to prevent a new migration wave. Greece and Turkey are NATO allies but also historic rivals. They have “long been at odds over migrant issues and competing territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean”.
Afghanistan Anxiety EU, US, NATO
“It must be our goal to keep the majority of Afghan people in their home region,” Austrian Interior Minister, Karl Nehammer, said this week. His words echo what many European leaders say. EU officials told a meeting of interior ministers this week that “the most important lesson learned from the 2015 migrant crisis, was not to leave Afghans to their own devices.” The Associated Press obtained a confidential German diplomatic memo expressing EU leader concerns that “without humanitarian help, Afghans will move toward EU countries again“.
“Desperate scenes of people clinging to aircraft taking off from Kabul’s airport have only deepened Europe’s anxiety over another potential refugee crisis. The US and NATO are scrambling to evacuate thousands of Afghans who fear they’ll be punished by the Taliban for having worked with Western forces. Other Afghans are unlikely to get the same welcome.”
Germany, France, UK, Austria, Turkey
Even Germany, which since 2015 has admitted more Syrians than any other Western nation, is sending a different signal today. Several German politicians, including Armin Laschet, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and a candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, warned last week that there must be “no repeat of the 2015 migration crisis”.
“French President, Emmanuel Macron, stressed that Europe alone cannot shoulder the consequences” of the current situation in Afghanistan and “must anticipate and protect itself against significant irregular migratory flows.”
“Britain, which left the EU in 2020, said it would welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees this year and resettle a total of 20,000 in coming years. Besides that, there have been few concrete offers from European countries. Besides evacuating their own citizens and Afghan collaborators, they’re focusing on helping Afghans inside their country and in neighboring countries Iran and Pakistan.”
In remarks published on Sunday, Austrian “Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, opposes taking in any more people fleeing Afghanistan now that the Taliban have seized power”.
Greek Migration Minister, Notis Mitarachi, said that Greece “won’t accept being the gateway for irregular flows into the EU,” and that it considers Turkey to be a safe place for Afghans.
In a heated response, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said his country “hosts 3.6 million Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Afghans”. He’s threatened to “send them to Europe for political leverage”. He added that, “Turkey has no duty, responsibility, or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse”.
According to the Greek National Meteorological Service, Greece’s 2021 heatwave recorded between July 28 and August 5, was a “record-breaker in terms of duration and temperatures”. I can attest to the heat!
In the “first five days of August, the maximum temperatures in several areas of Greece exceeded historical maximums”. I think it’s always hot in Athens during the summer, which reinforces my “usual” plan to travel off season!
A little over a week ago, “Greece breathed a sigh of relief after mega fires that ravaged parts of the country were brought under control”. Elsewhere, firefighters in “southern Europe braced for fresh outbreaks”. Scorching temperatures and dryness have “increased the risk of blazes that devastated parts of Italy, Turkey, Algeria, and Tunisia, and put “Spain and Portugal on high alert”.
“Scientists say larger and more intense heatwaves due to climate change, lead to out-of-control wildfires that inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage.”
Rain and a slight drop in temperatures helped Greek firefighters “gain a hold on active fronts at Evia Island and the Arcadia Region of the Peloponnese which have burned more than 100,000 hectares (386 sq. miles)”. Increased winds in the forecast “escalate the likelihood of new flare-ups”.
For the time being, multinational forces assisting Greece are remaining in place to “monitor the perimeters of burned areas”. Recently, a new fire broke out on Evia Island in Figias Karystos, the northeast part of the island. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says the horrendous fires are Greece’s “greatest ecological disaster in decades“.