NEWS

Adults and children often in state of limbo

They work in construction, in hotels, restaurants and as domestic staff, badly paid and usually without legal status. Although they keep up their social security payments, they cannot look forward to anything but the lowest pensions. Most are young (the average age is below 40) and married, with a low level of education. Their children go to Greek schools, but have no means of becoming familiar with the language and culture of their country of origin, as there is no provision for ethnic schools. They have access to the National Health System services but are at risk of being deported should their doctor see fit to report those whose papers are not in order. Most immigrants have been here for at least five years and, although the majority are from Albania, a total of 27 different countries are represented. Altogether, 55.6 percent are from Albania and another 17 percent from the other Eastern European countries. Although they initially settled in farming areas, in recent years they have been moving to towns or larger islands seeking better working conditions and often altering the composition of local communities, sometimes constituting as much as 17-25 percent of the population. These are the initial findings from surveys by five universities and research centers for the IPI, in an attempt to record the country’s immigrant population, the conditions under which they live, their financial and employment status and whether they are urban or rural. It’s a difficult task indeed, says the IPI’s director, Alexandros Zavos, one which involves gathering information from six ministries, a number of social security funds, educational and health institutions, among others. As initial findings are compiled, it appears that the migrant population numbers around 900,000, although some sources put the figure at 1.2 million. The number of those here illegally is not clear, although it appears they could be as many as half of the total. The most impressive figures concern the rate of increase of the migrant population. There are now five times as many as there were 15 years ago and there are three times as many immigrant children in school as there were five years ago. They now number 150,000. The system of granting legal status to immigrants is in chaos, and there is no real procedure for assimilating them. Apart from those who enter the country illegally, there are those who enter on a visa but stay on after it expires. These are the economic immigrants from countries with which Greece has signed bilateral agreements for the employment of seasonal workers. Each year Albania, Bulgaria, Egypt and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia send thousands of seasonal workers for specific periods. However, it is certain that most stay on, since there is no system of checking to see if they have left when their visas expire. A similarly nebulous situation surrounds the system of granting residence permits for humanitarian reasons. According to the figures, in the previous two years over 50,000 people have applied for them. Most of these applications were rejected, but the applicants did not leave the country. Apart from the problems this situation creates for designing and carrying out an assimilation system, this creates serious problems for the immigrants themselves. According to existing legislation, the children of illegal immigrants cannot be registered at Greek state schools. However, the Education Ministry, in cooperation with the Interior Ministry, sends out a circular at the beginning of each school year allowing schools leeway in registering such children. At the same time, in another circular, the Interior Ministry draws school principals’ attention to the reasons why they should be cautious about registering the children, whose parents might use the fact that their children are in school to be able to remain in Greece. In Attica, where the majority of the immigrant population lives, 103,000 applications for either initial residence permits or renewals are still pending but whose expiry dates have passed. Another 75,000 are still in the initial stages, while 10,000 more applications by the City of Athens cannot be dealt with by the competent regional authority for lack of space.