Racism and Discrimination against Immigrants and Minorities in Greecethe State of Play
April 30, 2007 - Miltos Pavlou
TagsRacism & xenophobia, Public discourse and media, Integration of migrants, Racist violence & crime, Antisemitism, Discrimination, Islamophobia, Zinganophobia
One of the most widely accepted concepts about migration and minorities in Greece, which in fact resembles a myth, is that the latter as a nation-state has always been a homogeneous country and that only recently, namely in the 1990s, it has become an immigration-reception one. Moreover, the state acknowledges the existence of only one minority - the Muslim one of the Western Thrace - recognized through international treaties of the early 20th century. It denies such connotation (‘minority’) for social groups like Roma, gypsies etc. In reality however, Greece of the 20th century has been an emigration, as well as an immigration country, especially following the exchange of populations after clashes with the vanishing Ottoman Empire, and due to territorial enlargement whether through wars and treaties, bilateral agreements, or by opening to the Arab world in the second half of the 20th century.
The landscape of immigration, minority and anti-discrimination policies in Greece is largely marked by issues of recognition and of articulation of long term state initiatives and planning, as well as by shortcomings, critical social exclusion, racism phenomena and macro-political challenges. This paper aims to expose an overview of the situation, the main trends, as well as the problems and challenges concerning immigrants, minorities and discrimination issues in Greece.
One of the most widely known aspects of the Greek migration management system in the years 2001-2004, which is rather indicative of its inefficiency, is that due to long delays and administrative dysfunctions, residence and work permits were delivered to immigrants after their expiration date.
Furthermore, a strict bureaucratic system for admission to enter the country for work purposes has lead to hundreds of thousand of undeclared immigrant workers. Therefore, in 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006 successive legalization programs took place in an effort to regularize irregular immigrants. These legalization campaigns provide employers’ amnesty, while immigrant workers are called to pay social security contributions and expensive fees in order to regularize their work and residence status for 1 year.
The migration policy that prolongs the perennial insecurity of the suspended immigrant status, preserves the subaltern and vulnerable position of the immigrants in the labour market. It seems that there is an absence of a specific integration policy on immigration and that there are a rather fragmentary measures and contradictory policies instead. The National Action Plan for Employment still does not include immigrants as a target group. Surveys and researches on integration of immigrants and minorities’ in the labor market show that they receive lower wages and pay higher social security contributions. There are however increasing claims of higher wages backed by the unions of national and local workers. There are also increasing legislative limitations and restrictions in their entrepreneurship, concerning access to certain professions.
Regarding the reception policies, the living conditions in the refugee reception and detention centres, especially in the Aegean Sea islands and the police departments throughout the country still remain unacceptable in many cases and degrading for human dignity, as depicted by a long list of international and national organizations.
The rapidly increasing participation of 2nd generation immigrant children in education is accompanied by an ever larger dropout rate, which remains higher for immigrant children in relation to the total students’ population in primary and secondary education, though it is not to attribute to school performance. Isolated incidents of exclusion and discrimination against them are recorded, especially in relation to national festivities and parades, mainly due to the strongly ethnocentric aspects of Greek education.
The state intercultural education consists of providing language support by specialized teachers and is implemented only in 26 intercultural schools which are operating throughout the country. It serves the needs of the children of over a million of immigrants. Measures for immigrant children in school do not challenge the structural and systemic role of the education system in the Greek society, which is still based on exclusion rather than inclusion and on ethnocentrism rather than multiculturalism.
Irregular immigrants are excluded from the provision of public health, unless and as long they are at immediate risk of life loss, while their appearance in the public hospitals should be signalled to the police. In reality, the medical staff of public hospitals does provide medical services irrespective of the residence status of the patient.
Regular immigrants are holders of similar rights to those of Greek citizens, for a narrow field of social protection, namely provisions for natural disaster victims, and are not eligible for regular disability and subsistence welfare programs, which are connected to Greek citizenship and/or ethnic origin.
There are no provisions in place for granting voting rights in local municipal elections to subjects who are not Greek or EU nationals (third country). Nevertheless, there are isolated exceptions – in some municipalities in rural Greece, the non-voting consultative bodies representative of immigrant residents were created.
The Greek citizenship code does not provide a distinct path to citizenship to third country nationals, neither if they were born, nor if they lived their entire life in the country. Instead, the common procedure is an application after 12 years of legal residence in Greece, supported by expensive fees (1500€), with no deadline or even an obligation of the state to provide an answer. Such requests are frequently not responded to before a decade after the application date.
The Long Term Residence status EC Directive is yet to be fully transposed into the Greek legal order, while the application for such a status is possible only after paying a hefty 900€ fee, and passing an exam following a year-long course of Greek language, history and culture. However, there is a ‘numerus clausus’ for taking part in these courses, to an extent that in the best of cases, no more than 5-10.000 immigrants will be able to apply for LTR status until 2011. This is an extremely low percentage of long term residing immigrants in the country (estimated roughly between half and one million, and on the basis of the 2001 census records on the duration of residence).
There are no diversity management policies in place, neither in public nor in private sector, while no percentage of job posts is reserved to ethnic cultural minorities whatsoever. Believers of religions other than Christian Orthodox are not allowed to abstain from work to exercise their religion. No other religions’ festivities are recognised for employment and leave purposes.
According to available data, there has been a net improvement of the situation concerning the education of Roma and Muslim minority children since the 1990s. However, there are contradictory reports about Roma children enrolment and dropout rates.
A persisting trend is that enrollment of Roma children in ordinary community schools continues to cause tensions, intolerance and violent reactions, in some cases obliging the Roma children to attend special Roma school units, despite the firm commitment of the administration to avoid segregation of minorities in education.
Over the last couple of years (2004-2005) there has been an increase of evictions of Roma dwellings in the areas where major cultural and sport events had taken place or are going to take place in the near future (2004 Olympic Games of Athens, Patras Cultural Capital of Europe 2006, Votanikos area, site of a new Football Stadium). These are inevitably accompanied by tensions, local society intolerance and violent attacks against Roma.
Despite the efforts of the state, the Roma living, health and sanitary conditions in improvised settlements still remain a major social and humanitarian emergency.
In early 2005 the anti-discrimination directives have been transposed into the Greek legal order and a set of equality bodies with complementary mandates has been provided, some of which do not fully conform to the Paris Principles. After 2 years of implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation there are extremely few discrimination cases within the field of the anti-discrimination law, almost all of them handled by the Greek Ombudsman, which seems to be the only fully operative Equality Body in Greece. No official case of racist violence and crime is recorded on the basis of the relevant anti-racist penal legislation (law 927/1979), although violence against immigrants and minorities, in many cases by police officers, is a reality.
Negative stereotypes against minority groups and legitimisation of racial violence have proven difficult to extinguish. A football game between Greece and Albania readily sets off racist tensions that lead to clashes between Greeks and Albanians and even murders of immigrants among the largest immigrant group in Greece. What raises concerns is that the episodes cannot be attributed to a few nationalist and fascist groups, but that they are legitimised through a mainstream anti-Albanian attitude, tolerated or shared by a large proportion of the Greek society.
The problem of police and portual corps violence against immigrants-refugees and minorities is exacerbated by the fact that the internal police audit control and investigations procedures often lead to the offenders’ impunity. Only in a very small and insignificant number of cases has the investigation led to disciplinary measures, while in the absolute majority the complaint cases close as unfounded.
The Olympic policing-racial profiling of Muslims and their surveillance because of anti-terrorist measures has lead to a major incident of mass abduction and interrogation under undefined circumstances by Greek and foreign secret services in summer 2004. This issue has lead to a heated debate in the Parliament and has been under the focus of international media in 2005.
The religion-oriented racism is not usually the case in the Greek society and intolerance towards Muslims or islamophobia incidents have not been detected or reported. The public policies are not terror-fear driven and no particular security measures have been taken towards Muslim religious minority group in Greece.
Notwithstanding the great numbers of immigrants of Muslim religion and the practical absence of racist tensions against them, no official mosque still exists outside of the Western Thrace Region, while a notable number of unofficial mosques operate in Athens informally but without intolerance problems.
The ‘Greek majority priority’ principle, a perception deeply rooted in Greek society, provides the base for discrimination against minority groups and foreigners and constitutes an obstacle for development of the society on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. The hard-to-die negative stereotypes against minority groups legitimize racist violence. These are accompanied by the resolute and contradictory emerging attitudes versus the foreigners (co-existence of positive/negative views).
A major challenge for the future is a decisive role of the representatives of the political spectrum in shielding the public sphere from extreme right-wing xenophobic and racist discourse and practices legitimized in the name of a nationalist patriotism and the preservation of the ‘Greekness’. While public condemnations against such views are frequent and generalized as rhetoric, the main arguments and repertoires of racist discourse permeate a great part of the political class and parties, while media offer ground to xenophobic and racist discourse, encouraging similar opinions and practices.
A number of noteworthy good practices and civil society’s voluntary activities depict a rather robust and dynamic landscape of anti-discrimination action, some having significant impact on the public sphere. Civil society organisations and agencies are conducting a strongly anti-racist and pro-integration activity and a considerable part of substantial good practices concern promotion of multicultural society through high impact cultural activities. A significant number of local initiatives by civil society organizations are focused at intercultural contact and exchanges as well as at provision of specialized support to vulnerable groups, especially immigrant and refugees-asylum seekers, women and minors in major cities such as Athens, Thessaloniki, and Rethymno. After a decade of immigration, Greek cinematography is producing more films with a strong reference to the migration phenomena and the way it shapes Greek modern society, while special cinema tributes are dedicated to migration.
Under the light of public discussion regarding the management of migration it is obvious that some things have changed indeed in terms of dealing with immigrants as subjects entitled to basic rights, while the declarative perspective is their integration into, rather than their exclusion from, the Greek society.
The debate about concession of political rights to immigrants has been initiated, and all parliamentary parties propose full political rights especially to long-term residents and at the local or national elections, except for the right majority party in government.
As the newly elected president of the Hellenic Republic has put it at his first presidential address to the nation for the occasion of national independence anniversary of 25/3/2005, integration of immigrants is one of the main future challenges for Greek democracy: ‘(…) the protection of human rights and personal freedoms without discrimination and smooth integration of immigrants, are serious challenges for modern Greece’.
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