ATHENS, Dec. 7 (IPS) – Immigration and dealing with migrant workers has perennially been a problem for countries across Europe, but nowhere more than in Greece. Huge problems remain unsolved while the country attempts to match the requirements of EU law.
Among the new workers coming in are several from India. The interior ministry estimates their number to be around 11,000.
"Indian people have contributed to Greece and they are good workers, but many are employed in the black economy where they have no rights and have no access to pensions and social security," Maghar Gandhi, president of the Greek-Indian Cultural Association told IPS.
"There is suffering, only about 60 to 70 percent have entitlement to social security, and just 30 percent have families here now."
A slow bureaucracy means progress comes at a snail-like pace, he said. Typically Indians are recruited legally, but after the initial six-month permit has expired, many are left with 'no man's land' status, he said.
"The main problem is the paperwork, some have been waiting for over five years to gain residence permits, and there is also a huge fee of about 900 Euros."
Most workers from the Indian subcontinent work in the agriculture sector, which accounts for 10 percent of the gross national income (GNI). Invariably, they are poorly paid and work in difficult conditions.
The population from Pakistan living in Greece has also risen. The figures for 2006 state there are now nearly 16,000 legal residents from Pakistan. According to research conducted by Kanellopoulos and Gregou in 2005, the highest number of asylum applications are from Pakistan at just under 9,500.
Pakistan's population in Greece is similar to the Indians in that it is male dominated, and faces problems similar to Indians. Growth of the black economy means a larger number of workers are at the mercy of employers.
Greece has found dealing with ethnicity a difficult proposition, as lack of available data over recent decades highlights.
This lack of data goes back a long way. Through the late 19th and early 20th century huge migratory flows involving millions took place, especially after the Treaty of Lausanne (in Switzerland) in 1923, under which large ethnic populations of Turks in Greece and Greeks in Turkey changed places.
Following that the idea of Greece for Greeks gained ground, and it became a priority of governments to homogenise the population.
This has been a trend for all countries in Southeast Europe, but today Greece is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in Europe. This has resulted in poor treatment of its migrant workers and confusing immigration laws to be implemented by a cumbersome bureaucracy.
The Greek Ministry of Public Order issued 57,113 residence permits in 1990; this year that number increased to nearly 600,000, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior. But this has not led to extended legislation for migration, and there are now large numbers of illegal immigrants not accounted for.
Martin Baldwin-Edwards, co-director of the University Research Institute for Urban Environment at Panteion University in Athens paints a bleak picture of the current position.
"The situation is pretty messy, there are more new immigrants who are arriving without papers, and as we can see they build up in small ghettos around Athens. It's hard to see what it is that they do, and they are mostly very young," he told IPS.
"The situation is not expected to improve for a while — even up to 20 years. The Greek state is not doing enough to increase legal protection for immigrants."
Many of the new workers are Albanians. Acceptance of Albanians has not been helped by scare campaigns launched by the media. They face allegations of criminality and the creation of a black market.
Under a repressive law passed in 1991, the Greek police were allowed to expel immigrants without legal process. This meant among other things that there was no independent record of workers who stayed or were expelled.
Much needed hard data emerged in 1997 with applications being accepted for a six- month 'white card' in Greece's first legalisation process. Under steady pressure from the EU, the Greek government sought to record all data on the immigrant population in the 2001 census.
Just over 750,000 immigrants were recorded that year. But the same year an immigration bill was drafted that lacked an anti-discrimination clause, and violated rights to family reunification.
In two decisions against the Greek state later that year, the European Court Of Human Rights declared conditions at the detention centres for illegal immigrants at Alaxandras Avenue and Korydallos Prison in Athens inhuman and degrading.
The court action followed an investigation the previous year by Human Rights Watch that investigated the overcrowding at Alexandras. The group reported that inmates had little medical care, and not even access to fresh air.
In a report the following year, Human rights Watch reported that illegal immigrants were often beaten up by the police, and that they continued to face mass expulsions after 'sweeps' by the police.
Research conducted between 1996 and 2000 by the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at Athens University Medical School concluded that there was a serious pattern of health incidents that affected young migrant workers in the farming industry.
Many injuries resulted from over-exertion and risky use of machinery and cutting instruments. Several of the injured were never taken to hospital for treatment. (END/2006)