Getting to know and learning to live with our new neighbors

They live next door to us, their children go to school with ours, many of them work in our homes or our businesses, some work alongside us as colleagues. Yet the new neighbors haven’t moved in from another district, but from the country next door – usually Albania – or from further afield, such as Ukraine, Romania or Pakistan. Coexistence therefore requires some assistance for both sides, especially since mass immigration to Greece has not started off on the right foot. The newcomers need to find their niche, compatible with the country’s needs and its limitations. The host population need to learn to live – just as in other nations across Europe – with people within their midst who have had to leave their own countries. Over the past decade, it has become an accepted fact that European Union member-states will be receiving within their borders population groups from trouble spots around the world. As a result, the EU has sought to formulate policies to control the flow as well as to help immigrants adapt to local reality. In Greece, there have been border guards, procedures for the registration and legalization of immigrants. Now, for the first time, an attempt is being made to make immigrants part of the country’s social and production network. Over the next four years, 260 million euros will be invested in an operational program to «train» Greeks and the Greek civil services to coexist with immigrants, but also to teach immigrants about the country in which they have decided to settle for a few years or even longer, and to set up infrastructure for the purpose. The program is being funded by fees paid by the immigrants themselves for residence permits, as well as national and European sources. It was drafted by a large group of experts at the Institute for the Urban Environment and Human Resources at Panteion University, headed by the institute’s director, Yietimis, and by Tsalikoglou. Its first task will be to set up an immigrants information and service center, within the existing Citizens’ Service Centers, with specialized infrastructure and staff, and with separate centers in the capitals of prefectures and in larger cities. Volunteers, immigrant associations and non-governmental organizations will provide their services. In addition, an immigrants’ ombudsman will be available alongside the existing citizens’ ombudsman. Staff will receive special training at prefectural and regional levels. Immigrants themselves will be provided with training, particularly in the Greek language. To help immigrants find work, a data bank is to be set up containing the CVs of immigrants in the form of questionnaires they will be given when applying to renew work permits. This data will be passed on to professional associations, municipalities, local State Manpower Organization (OAED) branches and immigrant associations. As of 2003, immigrants who want to open their own businesses will be able to join sponsorship programs for young people to open their first business. Access to social security is another important part of the program. Incentives include a reduction in the number of social security stamps required to obtain a work permit, and bilateral agreements with the main countries of origin, so that when immigrants return home, they will be able to transfer the benefits earned here. Healthcare will be boosted with more buildings and training of health workers in infectious diseases. The question of improved migrant reception services is also to receive attention. A service will be available to provide information on home rentals, classified advertisements in newspapers, legal advice on rental contracts, as well as on housing for vulnerable immigrant groups such as those given legal status for humanitarian reasons, victims of human traffickers and seasonal workers, mainly in the agricultural sector.

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