Most Greeks see immigrants as strongly beneficial to the economy

Can immigrants be regarded as a positive force for the national economy, or do they deprive native Greeks of jobs and thus contribute to an increase in unemployment? Immigrants, now estimated to account for roughly 10 percent of Greece’s population, are increasingly setting up businesses and buying property in the country. An extensive survey recently released, conducted by the Greek Center for European Studies and Research (EKEME) and the Technical University of Crete (TUC), contains some surprising and also contradictory attitudes held by the native population as regards such trends. The survey, on the one hand, confirms the existence of racist and xenophobic attitudes, mainly in areas where there is lack of information. On the other, it shows quite clearly a high degree of social acceptance of immigrants: 40.18 percent of Greeks believe immigrants contribute to unemployment, but 51.28 percent think they offer a substantial boost to the national economy; 80.35 percent view in a positive light the setting-up of businesses by immigrants and refugees and 81.34 percent also approve of their purchase of property. To the question of whether foreign workers should pay higher taxes, 87.33 percent responded negatively. The first wave of immigrants into Greece arrived about 15 years ago. Contradictory attitudes emerged and were projected during this period, with alternating feelings of tolerance and fear. Stereotypes were adopted and prejudices took hold, sometimes weak but in some cases threatening to overturn the image of a hospitable and tolerant Greek society. It has become increasingly common in recent years for Greeks to acknowledge racism and an intensifying xenophobia on the part of their compatriots. But the survey shows that this is not quite so; at least in some areas of public life, the Greek tradition of non-racial discrimination and of absorption of foreign elements still prevails. ‘No’ to ghettos It would be true to say that racist phenomena have never been strong in Greece; admittedly, there has been rivalry for political or other reasons but in general there was no arrogance or an attitude of superiority toward the foreigner. But this picture changed after the successive waves of illegal immigrants that have managed to percolate into an increasing range of occupations and social activities. Greeks appear to exhibit phenomena of selective xenophobia vis-a-vis large number of immigrants (with uncertain feelings regarding their presence in specific areas of the country’s economic and political life) but not phenomena of a growing generalized racism. They do not want foreign ghettos; 89 percent do not want immigrant children to go to separate schools; 95.5 percent do not want foreigners to receive care in separate hospitals and 93 percent approve of their staying in the neighborhood. But while Greeks seem to accept the social integration and rights of immigrants, and reject the idea of ghettos, most reject their political participation and, even more strongly, their political representation. TUC Associate Professor Christos Skiadas, who supervised the study, finds some differentiation in the attitudes of Greeks toward foreigners in certain areas of the research; while the overwhelming majority approve of coexistence (schools, hospitals, residence) and most consent to migrants’ naturalization after five years of residence and work (this is the EU average but in Greece it is still 10 years), 22.1 percent reject altogether the naturalization of foreigners. This hostility becomes stronger in the case of foreigners who violate the law and commit crimes; 39.7 percent think expulsion from the country is the fit punishment. But more (47.9 percent) are in favor of the equal treatment of foreign citizens before the law. Political participation Nearly 70 percent approve of immigrants’ participation in representative organizations and bodies but 51.6 percent are against their further political activation beyond that stage; 60 percent say «no» to their representation in Parliament and 65 percent to their election to higher public office. «Greek society needs to be provided with more information on what happens in other countries. We must understand that just as the Greek guest workers of the previous generation were able to integrate into Germany, the immigrants must be afforded the same rights here. For an economic migrant to be given citizenship presents no dangers; but, of course, we need time,» says EKEME’s Spyros Haritos. «It is a new situation for the country. It took several decades for a Greek to become a parliamentary deputy in Germany. Greeks still erect barriers to foreigners as regards certain issues. But this by itself does not constitute a racist phenomenon,» says Skiadas, who is director of the Data Analysis and Forecast Laboratory at the TUC. The study was based on a random sample of 1,018 people and conducted between November 24 and 29, 2003. Its results were presented at a conference on racism and xenophobia in Athens on December 18 and 19. The researchers are planning a follow-up study on how the immigrants themselves experience aspects of racism and xenophobia, hoping the results will help in the formulation of a successful immigration policy.

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