Move to freeze migrant citizenship

A ministerial decision to suspend all procedures relating to the examination and approval of citizenship applications by immigrants has fueled upheaval within the fragile three-party government.

A circular sent out by Alternate Interior Minister Haralambos Athanassiou late on Friday calls on state services to suspend processing of all citizenship applications by migrants and registration of new citizens at municipal offices. The move comes ahead of the anticipated publication of a Council of State ruling questioning whether existing legislation granting citizenship and voting rights to second-generation immigrants residing in Greece is compatible with the Constitution.

When news of the ruling was leaked last month, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for the immediate implementation of the decision, prompting stern responses from the two junior partners in his coalition. Athanassiou’s move provoked a similar reaction over the weekend, with socialist PASOK describing his circular as “illegal” and claiming that it “undermines the government’s partnership,” while Democratic Left called for the immediate withdrawal of the “unacceptable circular.”

Known as the Ragousis law after former Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis who drafted it, the existing citizenship law was ratified by Parliament in early 2010, allowing those who had been born to immigrant parents legally living in Greece for five years to be granted Greek citizenship provided they had studied at a Greek school for at least six years.

The ruling by the Council of State questions whether this kind of criteria is suitable for determining a person’s citizenship and whether stronger ties with Greece should be required.

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