Right now, Greece estimates that about one million illegal immigrants are “in transit” from Turkey to the nations of the EU. They hope for a better life, but what life they will get remains to be seen. Many of them never get further than Greece, ending up in the ghettos of Athens. The economic situation in Greece has become increasingly worse with unemployment at 21 percent.
In addition to all this, the people of Greece have become disillusioned with their leaders—President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and the other politicians have found that their jobs are under closer scrutiny than ever. Parliamentary elections are on May 6.
Now let’s take into account that some 90 percent of illegal immigrants that were detained in the European Union were arrested in Greece.
The following is a discussion with Citizenside correspondent Nikolas Georgiou about the illegal immigration situation in Greece.
A whopping 130,000 illegal immigrants enter Greece each year. They are looking for jobs doing odds and ends, gardening, or selling merchandise — anything that will support them. But there are no jobs in Greece. And, like the citizens of Greece, immigrants are frustrated. “Most of them, especially nowadays that there are no jobs in Greece, want to go to other European countries to work or find relatives already there,” says Nikolas Georgiou, our Citizenside reporter in Greece.
Greece hasn’t received much help from its neighbors in the European Union, especially since according to the Dublin Treaty, once immigrants (many of whom are potential refugees) enter a European country, they must remain there or be expatriated to their home. Most enter Greece through its northern border with Turkey. Immigrants are loaded in buses and transported to the center of Athens, at Omonoia Square, Georgiou said.
Immigrants rent at exorbitant prices some apartments in third world condition
While some immigrants sleep on the streets, others find those from their own country and live in old houses or apartments that are in extremely bad condition. They rent these “from Greek owners, at a price per head, per night at exorbitant prices given the third world condition of these apartments,” Georgiou said.
These illegal immigrants, because of the Dublin Treaty, may not leave Greece unless they are returning to their home country. On top of it all, there isn’t even a good system to gain citizenship. It takes many years when you immigrate legally. And, it’s impossible to gain citizenship if you’ve entered the country illegally, Georgiou says. Most immigrants work outside Athens, paid very badly and live in third world conditions, he said.
Approximately 5,000 souls are living in abandoned buildings and burglaries in Athens have risen 125 percent, according to stats. “They’re basically stuck. All these immigrants do not want to be in Greece, especially now that the economy is bad and there is no jobs for them.
"Skinheads and neo-Nazis are gaining popularity."
They want to go to Europe where things are better, but they cannot do that.” Some illegal immigrants have to find employment from other immigrants.
Illegal immigration has been a problem for both sides, for a long time, Georgiou says. But it seems that the government is just now trying to do something about it.
With these problems, the current government is losing popularity and the far right political groups are gaining it.
It is becoming increasingly popular to follow the right wing approach. A majority has begun to agree with the police’s treatment of illegal immigrants, Georgiou says. Skinheads and neo-Nazis are gaining popularity because they seem to offer protection to Greek citizens. This fear of immigrants is promoted in many ways – sometimes through several unfortunate incidents with immigrants who steal or commit other crimes, but the mass media’s slant increases the fear and prejudice against immigrants.
The television stations in Greece are especially guilty of this, Georgiou says, because they give daily reports about Greeks who are afraid to walk around in fear of an immigrant stealing from them or stabbing them. And the immigrants who get the worst rep are the colored ones, Georgiou said.
“This is totally untrue, but as we all in the news business know, fear sells,” Georgiou says. “So you have from one side, terrified citizens and from the other side, terrified immigrants.”
And, as is true everywhere, where there is poverty, there are drugs and where there are drugs there is prostitution and so on.
It’s no secret that anti-immigrant neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn has surged in popularity and now it looks as though they have a chance as a party in the upcoming parliamentary election. They gained their influence in part from appearing helpful to those who want protection or giving gifts to elderly folks, Georgiou explains.
"The majority of citizens wants the illegal immigrants out."
“People that live in these neighborhoods, some are afraid of walking around in fear of being attacked or whatever—and these guys attack immigrants and they claim they want to clean, if I can use this word, the area from immigration.”
Golden Dawn is gaining popularity with those who don’t have any political ideology. These are people who just want their life to be better.
Enter the minister for Citizen Protection, Michalis Chryssohoidis, with an unprecedented plan that adopts some Golden Dawn rhetoric -- a plan that about 61 percent of Greek citizens agree with. The majority of citizens wants the illegal immigrants out — so Chryssohoidis will give them what they want.
The government is opening 30 detention centers for illegal immigrants by 2014. The first one is already in the process of opening in Athens. Chryssohoidis claims that this will give the illegal immigrants more humane living conditions before they are deported. These camps will separate illegal immigrants from the citizens of Greece, and solve many problems for Greece—or at least supporters think so.
"They are officially called ‘hospitality centers for immigrants.’ But it would be prison."
The opposition parties, including the Communist party, are against these camps, Georgiou said. But their main argument is that Greece cannot have Greek soldiers in the war and not expect Afghan immigrants to try to find refuge in Greece or Europe because of the war.
Recent protests “against concentration camps” have shown this. And although a majority supports the camps, no one wants them in their neighborhood, he said.
The international community has not hidden the fact that it is scandalized. Many have compared these ‘hospitality centers’ to Germany’s concentration camps (‘work camp’ was the nice name used) for their ‘undesirables.’
All these immigration problems, with the economic crisis, makes people become more conservative, Georgiou said. But it’s not just Greece where this has happened, he pointed out. Before the outbreak of World War II there was an economic crisis that made people think conservatively and look for a scapegoat.
Does Georgiou think that the illegal immigration detention centers — or hospitality centers, as the Greek government has named them — will be a solution to the immigration problem that has so plagued Greece? No, he said simply.
“They will basically be like prisons and they will not solve the problem,” Georgiou said. “It is just a pre-election trick.”
By Tabitha Waggoner