Migration and Struggle in Greece

A comment on recent events

Posted by clandestina on 5 March 2015

the government says:
sans-papiers will not be arrested at the border”
and then denies it

a short commentary

Let us briefly qualify the statement that “undocumented immigrants entering Greece will not be arrested, but they will be handed a paper giving them one month to leave Greece”.

until 2012: no papers, some detention, “one month to leave”
This paper was more or less common practice until about three years ago. Undocumented migrants arrested at the borders were kept in police custody for three days for medical exams and then were released with the “one-month-to-leave” paper in their hands. Those who applied for asylum were kept in detention (detention centers or police stations) for up to 3 months, as a form of punishment of applicants, and also to discourage other migrants from applying for asylum. Very few were actually granted asylum (Greece had the lowest acceptance rate in Europe), very few were deported, some were occasionally arrested again, and all undocumented migrants were constantly fearing and facing police repression. All of them were trapped in Greece. All were monitored and ultimately controlled by smuggling mafias (with the participation of -para-state officers).

the role of detention after the summer of 2012
After the “Xenios Zeus” Operation in August 2012 and the arrest of thousands of undocumented migrants, this practice (the one-month permit, which was not a legal exit visa, but warned the holder they had to prepare their illegal exit) somehow changed: A certain number of those entering Greece were kept in detention centers, usually for a period of 6 to 18 months. The majority of migrants initially imprisoned after the new detention centers were created (2.5 years ago) had been arrested in Athens, not at the borders. Some of them had already been living in Greece for many years. It is said that at the beginning of 2014, there were 8,000-10,000 people in detention centers.

This new mass detention practice was part of the scape-goating policy followed first by the “socialist” PASOK and then by the right-wing Nea Dimokratia governments, in order to distract attention from the real causes of austerity measures and the sudden imposition of poverty, to curb resistance, and to strengthen the repression apparatus of the State. Actually it is partly due to the official anti-immigrant rhetoric of the State that the nazi Party electoral percentage climbed from 0.15% to 7%. Hate speech had been legitimized by the State itself (the media & companies that comprise it).

2010-2015: numbers of sans-papiers shrink, violence continues
After the murder of the anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 the situation started to change. Anti-immigrant hysteria had to be reduced. In the last months (well before the elections) migrants were silently being released steadily. The Komotini detention center was shut down in November 2014. In the beginning of 2015 there were some 4,000-5,000 immigrants held in detention centers, although, according to greek police data, in 2014 77,163 undocumented immigrants were arrested.
Meanwhile, because of the so-called crisis and the lack of even badly paid jobs, a big percentage of undocumented migrants had left Greece between 2010 and 2013. For the same reason, i.e. joblessness, in the last years very few undocumented migrants cross the Greek borders, and those who do are mainly refugees from the war in Syria. In the same period, more than 200.000 Albanians who had been legal for years have now become illegal, as legality in Greece is connected with work stamps. The crisis, and not police repression (or violence by nazis, often the same thing), was the main reason migrants left. Actually undocumented police violence against immigrants was extremely brutal well before the crisis, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping now that Syriza has won the elections.

in other words…
Immigrant detention centers were created 2.5 years ago mainly for propaganda reasons related to social instability (mass anti-austerity demonstrations peaked on February 12, 2012, when many buildings were torched in Athens). As the situation has somehow stabilized over the last two years, the need for State rhetoric based on hate against migrants has been reduced, already under the former, far-right government. One year ago, police trade unionists themselves asked for the government to shut down the horrible detention centers and to replace them by “proper ones” funded by the E.U. (which by the way offers 200,000,000 Euros for this purpose).

UPDATE 2: The government does not confirm that undocumented immigrants entering Greece will not be arrested. They say that it is false information leaked by the opposition party.

UPDATE 1: Earlier today some government decisions concerning undocumented immigrants were released. All immigrants being kept in detention centers for more than 6 months will gradually be released. Then, they will be given a paper postponing deportation for a 6-month period. In this period they should leave Greece by themselves. Undocumented migrants crossing Greek borders will no more be arrested, but (as in the past) they will be given a paper saying that they have one month to leave Greece. If they get arrested after this one-month period, they will also be given a paper postponing deportation for 6 more months. Then they will enter an uncertain status, the uncertain illegal status migrants have had in Greece been many years. Most of the detention centers will not close – perhaps not even Amygdaleza.
So are we now back to the situation as it was 3 years ago? Not exactly. Back then maximum detention was three months, not six, there were seven detention centers less than there are today, the nazi party percentage was 0,15% and not 7%, as it is today, and the immigrant population was much bigger (actually during the last three years the total population of Greece has decreased in general, for the first time since the formation of the greek State!)

And the police keeps chasing immigrants street vendors.

We are far from the recent far-right governance of Greece (especially the anti-immigrant high point that lasted from the summer of 2012 to the fall of 2013). This is definitely good news. But we are also far from February 2011, when Syriza MPs were openly supporting the 300 immigrants’ hunger strike for migrants’ rights and the legalization of all sans papiers.

No time to rest for the movement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: