ECONOMY

Are immigrants a threat?

The central issue tackled by the recent European Union summit in Halkidiki was that of immigration. The problem has assumed very serious proportions in Greece, though this may not be apparent judging by the relatively limited publicity given to it. According to estimates by the United Nations and other authoritative agencies, foreign immigrants in Greece in 2015 will number 3.5 million in a total population of 13.5 million. The projection is based on very conservative estimates that do not take into account any continuation of the present rate of influx of immigrants. Greece already has the highest percentage of immigrants in its population in Europe, except for Luxembourg. If their numbers continue at this rate of growth, especially in view of their high birthrate, it is quite likely that immigrants will number more than the indigenous population in 20 to 30 years. Without wishing to belittle the significance and contribution of immigrants to the country’s economic prosperity and growth, such a change in the country’s ethnic makeup is surely a matter of concern. In countries that were born of and grew through immigration, such the USA, Canada or Australia, the numerical superiority of the Anglo-Saxon element was maintained through a system of national quotas for immigrants. Illegal immigration was – and still is – well controlled, though that’s not to say that it was completely prevented. Overall, through such policies, the Anglo-Saxon element remained dominant in these multicultural societies. On a recent visit to Alexandroupolis, the Evros River border area and the town of Kesan on the Turkish side, I found out how easy it is for someone to cross the border. Let’s not kid ourselves, the country’s land and sea borders are very porous indeed. And when rickety boats full of immigrants run aground – frequently on purpose – on some Greek coast, the «mercifulness» of media «prosecutors» almost always ensures that they are given permission to stay. The entire process has come to resemble the organized trade conducted by immigrant smugglers, occasionally in collusion with «forgetful» border guards who, like most civil servants, operate under the familiar lack of any sanctions. It is true that various ministers have repeatedly unveiled specific policies and programs, but the results of most of them have not yet borne fruit. Doubtful measures The Halkidiki summit adopted certain measures of doubtful implementation and effectiveness, such as the approval of a meager 140 million euros for the policing of sea borders and the creation of common European passports with electronic and biometric data for the safer placement of legal immigrants in Europe. However, the crucial problem of the repatriation of immigrants was not solved, despite the existence of agreements with the countries of origin. Nor was provision made, as far as it is known, for the installation of a satellite system for locating suspect vessels with illegal immigrants. At the same time, cooperation with the security services of neighboring countries does not seem to be making much progress. Greece needs a comprehensive, long-term, humane immigration policy. Such a policy implies effective border policing, the repatriation of immigrants, strict criminal sanctions for smugglers and their collaborators, and the naturalization of immigrants after 10 years of legal stay. It is also necessary to establish national quotas for immigrants, and introduce proportional allocation of immigrant children in schools where they would not exceed 50 percent, as well as strong economic support for Greek mothers that would amount to a minimum wage for a third child. The central question is whether people realize that illegal immigration, if not dealt with in a serious, rational and intelligent way, can alter the country’s ethnic balance. (1) Theodoros Katsanevas is a PASOK party deputy.