Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Greek government to reform policies on immigration

Greece has long been a destination and transit point for migrants from Senegal to Pakistan because of its long coastline with numerous islands as well as its border with Turkey beckoning migrants from Asia.
At present, many migrants come from Syria, escaping the civil war, and Afghanistan, escaping conflict there. Many simply intend to use Greece as a transit point to western or northern Europe. Up until Syriza took power the main aims of policy were to deter migration and to detain migrants if they did come. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) claims that 45,500 migrants and asylum seekers were detained by Greek police last year.
In spite of the fact that Syriza is in a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a party that has anti-immigration policies, Syriza's emphasis will be on protecting migrants who enter the country illegally rather than detaining and then often deporting them. Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the Greek immigration minister, has proposed granting citizenship to second generation migrants born and raised in Greek. She also proposes to close the detention centers and use detention only as "an exceptional measure". She said:"Our first priority is the immediate release of unaccompanied minors and their safe removal. Abolishing the 18-month detention period and rescission of asylum seekers' detention are urgent measures for us." The present law requires the repatriation to the migrant's home country if there is no application for asylum. Greece has the lowest acceptance rate for asylum of any EU country so most migrants to not want to apply. In many cases there is no way they can be repatriated and so they remain locked up indefinitely even after the 18 month period.
Haji Sahib Khan is a 45-year-old from eastern Afghanistan. He was detained close to the Greek border with Turkey.He had been supervising distribution of food supplies from a US non-governmental group. Local fighters caught and beat him for his association with Americans and threatened to kill him causing him to flee. He had to bribe his way through many borders. After two years he is still in detention in a 60 square meter cell with 70 others. He has kidney stones but receives no treatment. He says he might have been better off to have stayed in Afghanistan and risk being killed by the Taliban:"I am dying every day. Maybe it would have been better to be killed by the Taliban. Even though I have a strong case, they keep telling me I have to wait another six months. I will not survive. They don't see me as a human being."
Syriza's coalition partners the Independent Greeks oppose immigration and multiculturalism and emphasize the importance of Greek history and culture. The leader Panos Kammenos stresses the role of the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece, while Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, is an atheist. The manifesto of the Independent Greeks calls for a cap on immigration of 2.5 percent of the population whereas the present percentage is 9. Syriza may have an uphill battle reforming the detention system even within their own government.
Amnesty International welcomed changes announced by Deputy Minister for Public Order that Greek authorities would no longer detain migrants indefinitely who are held under repatriation orders. There have been many critical reports on Greece's system for detaining migrants. A detailed discussion of several reports can be found here.
The appended video gives graphic accounts of the life of migrants in Greece.

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