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The illegal immigration issue is dividing the Greek society

11 March 2011 / 19:03:03  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The hunger strike held by 300 immigrants in Athens and Thessaloniki with their main demand to obtain residence permits and the way it ended caused different responses in Greek society. Many Greeks were satisfied with the outcome, but many thought that the government's decision to step back and promise a number of changes concerning illegal immigrants sent the wrong message "that anyone could come in the country and achieve their goals with extortion."

The illegal immigrants issue has been troubling Greek society for years. It has intensified greatly in the past seven years when slums were made in the capital and crime increased. The fact that all immigrants who want to go to Europe use Greece as entry point forced the Greek government to decide to build a fence along the land border with Turkey in order to interrupt their flow.

The decision led to many different discussions, but society is still divided. Can the border be closed for illegal immigrants and is it necessary to be closed? This was the subject of the open discussion, organized by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP.

Theodoros Lianos - Professor in Political Economy at the Economic University of Athens – supported the closure. He pointed out three reasons to justify his choice. The first is that a country that has established organization, culture and customs has the right to not want someone else to do things unacceptable to it. Those who enter and stay in the country can make changes its citizens may dislike. "I do not want a culture in which the penalty for adultery is murder and involvement in the bodies of young girls is normal," said the Professor, giving as example a foreigner living in the United States who took off his wife naked, tied her with rope to the car and toured the neighbourhood streets. When the sheriff stopped him and asked him what he was doing he replied that cheating women in his country were punished this way.

"I think the argument that people have the right to move wherever they want is incorrect. Illegality of a person is the beginning of any other illegality." Moreover, according to Professor Lianos, cost of immigration is far greater than the benefits. "Immigrant flows caused losses. Cheap labour has created a non-competitive manufacturing process," said Theodoros Lyanos, adding that "over 30 percent of patients in hospitals are illegal immigrants who pay nothing for their treatment. The situation at schools is the same, let alone data on crime." In conclusion, the Professor stressed that Greece should accept only a certain number of immigrants who meet the conditions which the country will set.

Michalis Tremopoulos – member of the European Parliament from the Green ecologists - had a completely different opinion. He said that there always had been immigration and it could be limited by compulsory means in no case. "The Greeks were also immigrants and not always they were welcomed by the respective countries. The problem can be solved only by a common European policy. Europe on the one hand says it needs 20 million workers, while on the other plays an impregnable fortress. We all follow the events in North Africa and the wars for oil and water, the climate change. Immigrants in Greece should be legalized and have full rights." Michalis Tremopoulos described as "communication trick" the notice of the Government to construct a fence in Evros, which aims to shift people's attention from the financial and social problems pressing them. "The only benefit of this fence will be that it will not let unemployed youth leave the country." According to the member of the European Parliament, European countries have robbed all the resources of their former colonies and doomed local people to poverty and misery. "Now, all this must be returned somehow to those countries. The key to success lies in integration. Immigrants do all those works which the Greeks have abandoned. Europe must take action against the black labour. Thus, immigrants will pay their contributions and will have the opportunity to visit their home countries without moving their entire families here."

The difference between illegal and legal controlled immigration was emphasized by Evripidis Stylianidis – deputy and former minister of New Democracy. He said the problem with illegal immigrants is wide, but "unfortunately it became clear after the deployment of Frontex along the border with Turkey. So far, no Greek government could compel Europe to focus on the eastern Greek border, which is an external border of the European Union." In his opinion Greece has demonstrated its humanity by offering free health and education to immigrants’ children. Evripidis Stylianidis said that Greece has lost 25 billion euros from trade in black and underlined the need to limit immigration. "Every day an entire village crosses the border at Evros and we do not know where these people go. I do not like them to fill the slums of Athens and Thessaloniki, nor to sell drugs around Omonia Square." According to the deputy, the state should organize language, customs and values classes for those immigrants who want to integrate. He criticized the government for the method of resolving the crisis with the hunger strike and finally said that the international community should take measures in the countries of origin of immigrants to minimize their influx.

Tags: SocietyIllegal immigrantsBorder closingImmigration policy
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