Over the past five years, more than 2 million people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better future in Europe, according to the United Nations. The reception they meet with has been reported on dozens of times by journalists and think tanks, with most reactions ranging from skepticism to downright fear.
Far less time has been devoted to discovering what the immigrants themselves believe about their journeys and the communities that receive them.
For the first time, a new study by Greek think tank diaNEOsis attempts to bring to the forefront this relatively unknown aspect of the refugee crisis. The lengthy research project, which was published in late January, maps the views and attitudes of the new influx of refugees and migrants, while at the same time juxtaposing their answers with those of older migration waves that have resided in Greece for many years and have been successfully integrated.
A total of 800 migrants and refugees participated in the survey’s comprehensive questionnaire, in an effort coordinated by Dr Vasiliki Tsagkroni, lecturer in political science at the University of Leiden, and Dr Vasileios Leontitsis, lecturer in Globalization Studies at the University of Brighton, in collaboration with Kapa Research. It is undeniably a research project whose scope and scale is unprecedented in Greece, and whose findings could inform policy decisions and public discourse with regard to the thorny issue of migration.
For the most part, diaNEOsis’ findings dispel a number of stereotypes that persist in Greek society and politics. Chief among them, according to the think tank, is the illusion that the majority of irregular migrants arriving on the Greek islands comprise economic migrants. In fact, 91 percent of new arrivals – and almost all the Syrians surveyed – said the main reason they traveled to Greece was “to escape violence.” For the Albanians and Georgians who participated in the survey, as indicators for older migration waves, this figure stands at less than 20 percent and barely 5 percent respectively.
“This is a very serious issue often overlooked in public debate – where, as a rule of thumb, migrants and refugees, regardless of origin, are considered one and the same,” diaNEOsis notes in its research. The survey adds that 75 percent of new asylum seekers have experienced air strikes, 69 percent have survived bomb attacks, and 53 percent have seen their own home destroyed.
Equally important are the survey’s findings with regard to the religiosity of the new migration waves – an argument that is dominant when it comes to the integration challenges associated with the new influx in Greece. DiaNEOsis found that more than 75 percent of respondents don’t take part in religious ceremonies, or, if they do it is rarely. Religion seems to play a much smaller role in the lives of refugees than Greek society thinks.
Comparing the new immigrants to those who arrived in older waves also reveals the diametrically different realities that the two populations experience. The vast majority of recent migrants are staying in containers in refugee camps, with only 15 percent saying that they live in apartments or houses. In contrast, the vast majority of Albanian immigrants responded that they reside in their own home.
The two demographics, however, do overlap at an unexpected point of convergence. When asked to describe their feelings toward the Greek population that received them, the overwhelming majority chose the words “gratitude” (65 percent for old migrants, 52 percent for new) and “love” (56 percent old, 55 percent new). For both groups, words that carry a negative connotation, such as fear, anger and despair, remained restricted to the single digits.