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October 1, 2013
October 1, 2013

Truths and lies on immigration in Greece

Author: Dina Ioakimidou Translator: x-pressed
Source: Unfollow  Category: Borders
This article is also available in: eselfr
Truths and lies on immigration in Greece

Migrants are not to blame for the unemployment but they have contributed to the growth of GDP by 1.5% by paying the Treasury from €50 to €91 million every year. They have supported the bank and the pension system, they halted the further deterioration of the region and they have slowed down the ageing of the population. Let us look at the truths and lies about immigration in Greece.

 

“The politics of fear are fuelling a spiral of human rights
abuses in which no right is sacrosanct and no one is safe”
Amnesty International Annual Report 2007

 

The absence of a coherent, systematic and effective immigration policy in Greece, 22 years after the onset of the phenomenon of mass immigration, is ultimately a political and public anti-migrant policy – with incalculable consequences for the economy and society. From 1991 onwards the spirit and structure of failed institutional initiatives is being repeated with surgical precision aggravating –in any possible way and by any means– the conservation not of legality but of perpetual lawlessness . As for “politics”, the Greek state cannot invoke – after 22 years– surprise, ignorance or lack of experience.

Politics of fear

In the spring of 2012, the leader of New Dimocracy, Antonis Samaras, addressing the relevant party institutions at the official launch of the campaign period, proclaiming: “Our cities have been occupied by illegal immigrants. We will take them back “.
However, four years earlier, in 2008, the National Centre for Social Research noted in their research: “Universal values such as equity, equality and human rights are defined within the national context and are mediated through national culture. As a result, rights are the privilege of the natives. Immigration is related to public order and national security, while a strong phobia is dominant concerning the recognition of migrants rights. In Greece migrants do not have political rights and are thus deprived of basic mechanisms of lobbying and negotiation with the political leadership. They have scarce social rights in terms of institutional discrimination between them and the indigenous population, while the economic rights that are recognised to them are implemented in unequal terms.”

And it’s true. Immigration policy in Greece has been designed and implemented for over 22 years in terms of political cost, with the established clientelist lobbies dominating its formulation. All these years, the naturalisation system remains cumbersome, bureaucratic and unfriendly to migrants, setting very strict limitations on the naturalisation process. The chosen criteria lean towards the exclusion and marginalisation rather than the integration and the strengthening of social cohesion. The immigration laws are characterised as “patchwork”, unclear both to the administration and the migrants, and as having the sole aim of keeping migrants hostage.

“Their naturalisation”, according to research by NCSR, is “viewed as a temporary phenomenon with migrants being seen as ‘people with an expiration date’”. The general position is the deterrence and the consequence of such position is that all legislative measures continuously reaffirm the keeping of migrants as a bargaining chip for the future. The temporality of migrants is considered an “informal target to be updated”.

The Greek state from the outset dealt with migrants in repressive-police terms, strengthening the phobias of Greek public opinion. In order to achieve this goal, the usual and –tested for their effectiveness– practices have been used. On the one hand, the beneficial contribution of migrants to the Greek economy and society has been systematically hushed and, on the other hand, reality has been forged creating convenient myths.

Useful lies

“The number of migrants is large and/or growing”. Not true. In reality, the numbers are decreasing in terms of legal migrants. According to data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 440,000 migrants hold residence permits, while 151,000 more permits are currently being issued. Out of these, only 80,000 hold a ten-year permit, while the total number of long-term resident permits and indefinite duration permits does not exceed 130,000. In the last two years, 80,000 permits have been pending, of which about 30,000 regard non-contract work. The latter maps out the rate of increase in the unemployment of economic migrants. As for the age groups of migrants, there are 111,000 boys and girls from 0-19 years old. In 2010, the institutions in charge of immigration issues received a classified document from the intelligence services, in which, to their surprise, they read that the country had been infiltrated by 1.5 million migrants. In fact, the total number of migrants (legal or not), according to the census of 2011, amounts to 912,000, while Eurostat puts the number of extra-EU migrants residing in Greece at 7%. In general, all estimates converge to the conclusion that the total number of migrants does not exceed the 10%.

“Migrants are to blame for the unemployment”. Not true. Migrants are not the cause of unemployment. The migration flow is driven by the needs for labour in the host country and in particular by the needs of the economy. The advent of cheap labour, however, has negative effects on the unskilled and land labour.

“They will grant citizenship to all migrants and/or the granting of citizenship will increase immigration”. Not true. The discourse on “a law-magnet to illegal immigrants” that emanated from the lips of the PM is entirely unsubstantiated and dangerous. The conditions for naturalisation set by the 3838/2010 Law concerned the second and third generation migrants, either by birth and if their parents are legally residing in the country for at least five consecutive years, or upon successful completion of at least six level in the Greek educational system. A total of 200,000 migrant children qualify for naturalisation. Treating second and third generation migrants, born or brought up in Greece, in the same way as their parents were treated can only bear negative effects. For most of these children the only country they know is Greece. Therefore, they assert the obvious: equity and equality of opportunity.

The real impact on the economy

According to surveys, migrants have contributed with their work to the growth of GDP by 1.5% (Sarris – Zografakis). In an article appearing in the Economic Bulletin of Alpha Bank, it is estimated that the influx of migrants during the 1990-2005 period contributed significantly to the country’s economic development and the retention of a significant number of productive activities in the Greek territory. Migrants worked hard in productive sectors that indigenous people avoided because the work is deemed dangerous, unhealthy, manual or underpaid, while their contribution in agricultural hands freed farmers and their families from heavy manual work. They also offered support in the social care for the elderly and people with disabilities, contributing to the release of the female workforce and its integration into the labour market.

The employment of migrants in the less developed areas of Greece dampened the further degradation of the region, while the sign is positive with regards to the increase in the population. Similarly, the –basically– youthful age structure of the migrant population decisively slowed down the ageing of the population. SMEs survived thanks to the cheap labour of foreign workers. Unfortunately, the settlement of migrants in cities has also been extremely profitable for many home-owners who rented –with great profit– not apartments but pigsties and warehouses to migrants.

The funds moved through wire transfers were of such magnitude that attracted the interest of the banking sector. Thus, the Bank of Greece with a clarifying Circular in 1998, allowed foreign workers to open bank accounts in Greece. In fact, in 2011, during the period of massive outflows of cash deposits abroad, the banking sector was to a large extended kept afloat by migrant deposits.

What are the other revenues flowing into public funds (permit renewals, admin fees, insurance premium) from legal migrants? Conservative estimates talk about €50 million a year, and according to data presented last December during the consultation in the House of Parliament with migrant organisations, the inflow into public funds during the past year exceeds €91 million.

In a short term context, their contribution to the sustainability of the pension system is obvious, while they have also played a catalytic role in the inflow of EU funds (typical headline in VIMA on 22/02/2004: “Immigrants have brought EU Structural Funds”).

In fact, the EU, through the Fund of Borders, Refugees, Returns and Integration, has allocated hundreds of millions of Euros for the decent reception and integration of migrants. We have invested it (those that we have achieved to absorb) in Nazi concentration camps. So all these people that we, with our acts or omissions, have turned into shadows of themselves, and who, with their hard work strengthened the Greek economy, cleaned our homes, took care of the elderly and the sick and our lands; whose savings we have plucked with endless fees and fines and whom we have stacked in warehouses, tortured, humiliated, assassinated, are now our useful enemy…

New immigration code (a.k.a. when SAMARAS… cried)

In the coming period, the new Immigration Code is expected to be submitted to Parliament. This Code will promote the naturalisation of long-term residents in the country –implementing effectively the 2005 EU Directive– in order to facilitate the transition of migrants to the European Union. Such naturalisation will be granted, according to some information, under the following conditions:

  • Five-year permanent residency in the country
  • Full medical and insurance coverage
  • Sufficient income (from €8,500 annually, as previously set by law, to €520 per month)
  • Certified knowledge of the Greek language

Also, it is set that naturalisation will be granted without a certification exam for the Greek language to children who become 18 years-old and have attended the nine-year compulsory education. At the meeting held on this topic at the PM House, the PM heard the recommendation for granting of citizenship to the children of legal migrants upon their enrolment in primary school. In support of this view, the argument used was for the integration in education of Greek children rather than foreign children, causing –it is said–, the momentary sympathy of PM Antonis Samaras…

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