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Migrant groups slam government over Greek citizenship law

Representatives of the Nigerian community in Greece were among the 19 groups that held a press conference in central Athens on Tuesday to appeal against the recent ruling regarding migrants' rights to Greek citizenship.

Nineteen migrant rights groups gathered in central Athens on Tuesday evening at a press conference hosted by the journalists' union ESHEA to appeal against a recent ruling by the country's highest administrative court over a law granting second-generation migrants the right to apply for Greek citizenship.

The Council of State on February 5 deemed unconstitutional the law, which was passed almost three years ago and which is known as the Ragousis law after former Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis.

In a joint statement, the 19 migrant groups accused the government of "adopting a right-wing agenda" with its decision to challenge the law.

"For the first time, that law addressed issues concerning the children of migrants, taking a few timid steps toward granting citizenship... steps that other countries in the European Union took a lot earlier and to a much more advanced degree," the statement said.

The citizenship law was ratified by Parliament in early 2010, allowing those who had been born to immigrant parents legally living in Greece for at least five years to be granted Greek citizenship provided they had studied at a Greek school for a minimum of six years.

Greece's conservative-led government stopped granting citizenship under Ragousis criteria in December, in anticipation of the Council of State's ruling being made public. The decision irked coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left.

"Two hundred thousand children are left in limbo, without papers, without rights, without hope," the migrant groups said. "These are the children of migrants born in Greece or who came to the country at a young age. These are children we often call second-generation migrants, when the fact is that Greece is the only homeland they have ever known."

Meanwhile, the Council of State’s decision could mean that some of those who were granted Greek citizenship in the last three years will lose their rights.

The statement added that of the some 200,000 people who are eligible for citizenship under the Ragousis law, 6,072 have succeeded so far, or just 3 percent.

"Now the government wants to reduce or even abolish this ridiculous percentage, which places Greece way at the bottom of the EU scale on the issue," the statement said.

Last month, Deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanassiou said that the Ragousis law would be replaced with legislation that would require migrants to show a “genuine bond” with Greece and prove they had assimilated into Greek culture.

"Being granted citizenship via a confusion of prerequisites and bureaucratic procedures will be an untenable dream for those who wish to apply," the migrant groups said, adding that the only group applauding the Council of State's decision is the "neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn," in reference to the ultranationalist party that was elected into Parliament in June on an anti-migrant platform.

"The basic reasoning of the government and the judges is to render Greece unattractive to migrants. The fact is that it has already stopped being attractive because of the deep economic crisis. Another fact is that an increasing percentage of Greeks - especially young Greeks - are preparing to or have already emigrated to other countries looking for that which their country has for two decades withheld from others: the hope of a better life," the statement said.

The migrant groups called for a new law that would improve citizenship rights.

"People who have lived for years in our country, who have families, who work and pay social security contributions and taxes, who are our friends and neighbors, have every right to become visible," the statement said.

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday February 27, 2013 (11:40)  
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