Migrants in Greece : "Xenophobia is a new phenomenon in Greek society"

There is news  that Greeceis “sealing” its border with Turkey. One of the aims being to lock European soil against refugees from Syria. Is that true?


This is not what minister Nikos Dendias said. He said his government  was concerned – which is fine, everyone is. When pressed again he said: We have to wait and see. It seems as if some media manipulated his words. Minister Dendias was actually announcing the recruitment of another 1,800 border guards (currently 600) and this ridiculous 10 km fence that will cost over 3m euros (and is opposed by the Commission). He was asked about Syria, and expressed “concerns”. The comment about “sealing the border” is a general one, designed to play into the right wing political sphere. He did not specifically address this to Syrian refugees. In any case, they are far better off staying in Turkeysince the violence against immigrants and minorities here is now getting to be nasty.


You gave a lecture  in Berlintwo years ago, some time ahead of the outbreak of the crisis, and you gave a rather gloomy picture of migrants’ conditions in Greece. How is the situation now?


Things have much deteriorated since. There has not been much work for migrants before but meanwhile there is absolutely none at all. All is now going to Greeks – and I am talking of bad paid work. The centre of Athenshas effectively been taken over by migrants 24 hours a day. There are thousands of them; their living is horrible. Five minutes from where I live there are thin figures who seem unable to survive another day. My own British university has closed and my Greek research institute is bankrupt; I have almost no income, but I feel rich in front of them.


What are they living off?


Most of them are selling drugs or contraband such as illegal cigarettes. Many are recent migrants, they have debts to pay the smugglers who actually organise the distribution of most of the illegal merchandise. They make tremendous commitments to these trafficking associations. Their families are at the threat. The biggest problem is that they themselves are completely hooked on nasty drugs. That’s why Greeks are afraid of them. I should also mention that Greecehas apparently closed its only state-run drug rehabilitation centre, for lack of funding.


Greeks are afraid, you say. But it’s Greeks who beat them up or kill them.


Migrants have become a convenient scapegoat for the problems of Greece. And having a few thousands of them living on the streets in these conditions  actually is a hot political and social issue. This has granted the high consensus to the absolutely disgusting Greek fascist Golden Dawn Party in the recent elections. And the ruling parties took and take a similar direction: In April, short before the second election, Pasok made the police collect people on the street. The current government has returned to this  policy and named it “Xenios Zeus”, hospitable Zeus. According to Greek media, over 8,000 people have been detained since the beginning of the month; of these, it seems that only 1,700 have been arrested for being without documents. This is a very low ratio (about 21%) indicating that the police rounded up people on the basis of skin colour and Asian or African appearance. Also, most of the “illegal migrants” in Greeceare simply former legal migrants who have lost their work and their residence status. It is not acceptable legally or morally to place them in the same class as those who came across the border recently.


What do you know about violence against immigrants?


This has started to escalate out of control, with thugs on motorcycles roaming the streets to look for people to attack and even kill. One NGO report says that it is over 500 hate crimes in the last 6 months; the police do nothing, and are themselves out of control. The courts are failing to convict and the public prosecutors are failing to act as well. There is no interest from the Greek state in addressing racial violence; an exception lies with the Mayor of Athens, Kaminis. There have been quite a few deaths from the unprovoked violence of Golden Dawn; and there are reports that they intend to step up their violence activities and also extend it to Roma and other Greek minorities. This will sound dangerously familiar to Germans, but is a new phenomenon in Greek society.



How does a refugee, a migrant become a legal alien in Greece?


They give a pink card to anybody who reaches the tip of the queue in front of Greece’s only migration office – the police station in Petrou Ralli, Athens. This grants six months of full rights: to work, to have a bank account and full resident’s rights and this policy is unique in the EU and highly counterproductive.


But no kind of care?


No kind of care, although the “reception centres” that have been built recently are supposed to remedy that situation. Basically, the Greek policy for the last 20 years has been to try to ignore asylum seekers – and at the most, recording their applications (which are 99.9% refused) and throwing them into the streets of central Athenswithout any assistance or money.


What is going wrong with Greece’s migration policy?


Well, it’s not just Greece. The EU structures to deal with flows from North Africa have had no result at all. Instead North Africa has become a buffer zone for Europe, the EU has effectively cancelled the Geneva Convention on refugee status for Africans wishing to arrive in the EU. Whatever so-called solution was found came from national initiatives: From Spain, which focused on Moroccoand Senegal, and from Italydealing with Libya, Whose co-operation relied on paying Gaddafi millions of euros. Basically, the EU still has no immigration policy and the Commission and |Council of Ministers like to pretend that it has; in reality, we have national policies.


And Greece?


They have mishandled the immigration thing from the very outset. Even the Troika said what had to be done, but the Greeks just don’t do it. They are still talking about the fucking border with Turkey, when they should talk about policies and the management of immigration. It is not about the border: it should be about how to handle “mixed flows” of migrants, and deal appropriately with those in need of protection. . Athenshas so mishandled the finance of the so-called detention centres, that the Commission can’t deliver millions for bureaucratic failure.They are even going to stop Frontex operations claiming Greek sovereignty. Last December the European Commission told Athens, they would not finance these border fortifications. They know well in Brussels that one can’t close a border entirely and they know too well, that the ill-paid Greek and Turkish border personnel is being bribed.


Would be sufficient to see this kind of migration non-policy to get the impression of Greeceas a failing state!


Greecehas always been a failing state. When the whole of Europeis falling apart it is just the weakest ring  in the chain. Most Greeks would prefer being taken over by the EU. But the political class is talking about national sovereignty and playing silly political games.


A political class which, after two elections, is again in power.


Yes, and Germanyhas partly to be blamed for it. And Europe. They should not have prevented Syriza, whose leader Alexis Tsipras is a smart guy, a civil engineer. Which is rare in Greece. He knows his country – he participated for instance in big projects in Athens, - which it needs. He’s got a background of skills and organising things and quite a good grasp to the economic.  He knows what happens.


What about the present rulers?


The two big parties are part of a political class, which doesn’t belong to their country. The type you would find in the Third World. Both Papandrou and Samaras are part of it. They are cosmopolitan.


What’s wrong about cosmopolitism?


Nothing. But when it’s about running your country you should know it first. This Greek political class mocked at Tsipras’ English which is okay, but he never left Greece, so it is not brilliant as theirs who spent their lives in Harvard or Oxford, without actually learning how to think or do serious research. However, his comments on the economic crisis have been far more sophisticated and astute than those of either Papandreou or Samaras.


Which solution for Greecein Europewould you suggest – not only when it comes to migration?


Greeceis both: the heart of European civilisation and antagonstic to it. The solution is not to throw them out of Europe. But Germanyhas not done the right thing to force them into protestant morality. The idea that imposing massive taxes on Greek citizens - in order to finance state debts - will do anything other than destroy the Greek economy is absurd. Greeceneeds the support and guidance of Europe, but has to find the political personnel to escape the crisis. Thus far, Germanyand the Troika have damaged Greek prospects for reform by imposing impossible financial conditions and propping up a corrupt political class. If Germanyhas had the intention of perpetuating Greek corruption, nepotism and economic waste, then your politicians have done an excellent job.

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