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Greece has stopped legalizing immigrants since 2007

05 April 2012 / 20:04:04  GRReporter
6912 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Illegal immigration is one of the leading topics in the election rhetoric. It has even shifted from the agenda the serious problems caused in Greek society by the crisis. Every day, the media bombard readers, listeners and viewers with the latest developments concerning the establishment of detention centres for illegal immigrants, but their voices are not heard.

That is why the i-Red Institute for Rights, Equality and Diversity convened an extraordinary press conference attended by immigrants. Quite naturally and unwillingly, each of them told his own story in an attempt to prove "the 10 truths about immigration."

One of the existing myths, according to them, is that the Greek citizenship law, which was passed in 2010, makes the procedures much easier and practically increases the immigration flows to Greece. Immediately after its voting, New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras promised to cancel it when his party comes to power. "The truth is that the legal text itself contains very complex procedures that hinder the process. The fees are very high and the required documents are so many that it is very difficult to obtain them, especially if the immigrants do not have direct contact with their home countries," said social researcher Eda Gemi. In her opinion, the number of naturalizations has dropped since 2010. However, those immigrants who meet the requirements of the law are rushing to submit their applications before the elections. "Often, however, municipal employees tell them that they do not have to do it because New Democracy is expected to repeal the law," added Nikodimos Maina from the organization Assante. His example is more than indicative of the complete lack of policy in this direction in Greece. Nikodimos is of African origin, but he has never lived there. He was born and raised in Greece, but for many years, the only document he had had was permission for temporary stay. "I applied for Greek citizenship in 1994 and I received it only last year,"he said regarding his 17-year odyssey. In his opinion, the second generation of immigrants who applied for Greek citizenship in December 2010 have not yet received any response.

But even legal immigrants, like those from Albania, who are the best integrated into Greek society, have begun to face legal problems. The reason for this is the requirement of 120 working days a year in order to renew their permit to stay in the country. As the economic crisis deepens, many of them are losing their jobs, cannot have this number of working days and this, in fact, puts them in a state of illegality.

"What should be clear is that immigrants do not come to Greece to stay here and apply for Greek citizenship. If they could, they would immediately go to the countries in northern and western Europe to which they would like to go. Very telling is the fact that the police catch more immigrants at the port of Patras than on the border with Turkey," added the journalist Niko Ago. He said that Greece's geographical location makes it the first stop for immigrants on the way to Europe and for this reason it is necessary to establish centres for detention and registration at the border itself in order to be aware of the number and identity of immigrants in the country.

According to the chairman of the board of refugees Yunus Mohammadi, the law on the acquisition of Greek citizenship "does not act as a magnet to attract new flows of immigrants, and helps for the successful integration of those who choose to live in the country and the country itself". Regarding the decision of the Greek government to build a fence along a part of the land border with Turkey, he shared his personal experience. "I also went through that border on foot. I went from Afghanistan, passed through Iran and Turkey to get here. My experience with such a fence is from the Iranian border. It is unable to stop the immigrants. What often happens there is shooting at the people who try to cross the border. Many others die in the explosion of mines." He pointed out that immigrants are now used to distract public attention from the financial crisis. "Yesterday's suicide in Omonia Square was the only event that was able to remove the focus from immigrants. Even the number of immigrants captured yesterday was smaller."

According to i-Red Institute, the increase in crime is not related to immigration. "Police data show that the participation of foreigners in serious crimes such as murder and armed robbery is about 36% and the number of captured immigrants, who had violated the law, decreased in 2011. "Most of the offences they commit are forgery and use of false documents in order to stay in the country, plus begging on the streets," said the head of the Institute Miltos Pavlu.

Nikodimos Maina highlighted how the media cover crime among immigrants. "When Manolis Kantaris was killed last year, much of a fuss was made. An immigrant from Bangladesh was killed two days later but no one cared about it."

Miltos Pavlou refuted the widespread opinion that the decline of downtown Athens is due to immigrants. "The truth is that the decline had already started before the arrival of immigrants. It was quite natural for those who have no papers to go to an already abandoned and neglected place." He noted that the centre has actually been taken over by organized criminal groups engaged in trafficking of drugs and women. Its other "lords" have become far-right extremist groups. "Greek citizens make money illegally by renting apartments, where there are dozens of illegal immigrants, living in very poor conditions. For apartments, whose rent under normal conditions would not exceed the amount of 200 euro, they take more than 1800 euro - for example, they get 3 euro per day from five occupants of a room." According to the Institute, protecting the immigrants from exploitation and crime is a prerequisite for improving the living conditions for everyone in downtown Athens.

Among the proposals of the Institute are immediate registration of immigrants from all categories and urgent examination of the applications for refugee status or protection of certain groups. "They are refugees, families, women, victims of human trafficking, pregnant women, children, sick, elderly and other people for whom it is necessary to establish detention centres."

Another proposal is to recognize and secure permission to stay for all immigrants who are actually working. "Today, the police just catch these people intending to extradite them. Then, they release them ordering them to leave the country, which is often impossible. So, the majority of them go back to work without insurances and for a very low pay from the Greek employers - exploiters."

The third measure is allegedly strengthening the police presence in the centre and the institution of criminal persecution against groups such as Golden Dawn, which for years have been attacking, beating and spreading racial hatred and fear among people.

"The establishment of public bodies in the centre of Athens to house public and social services, and taking other actions to transform the centre will help in conjunction with other measures to fully change the situation," said Miltos Pavlou.

The Institute, however, pointed out that before asking its European partners to equally share the burden and eliminate Dublin 2, Greece will have to assume its full responsibility and liability for human support and protection of immigrants as the first host country.

Tags: SocietyImmigrantsPolitical assylumLaw on Greek citizenshipDetention centres for immigrants
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