Greece struggles to keep up with immigrants, as more flock in

Within the last 15 years, the number of immigrants in Greece has quintupled; over the past five years, the number of their children in Greek schools has tripled. Numbering between 900,000 and 1.2 million, immigrants are changing the synthesis of local communities in Greece, in some places constituting as much as 25 percent of the population. Half of them have no legal status, the majority (55.6 percent of the total immigrant population) are Albanian. Gathered together in urban centers, badly paid, marginalized, they often have to deal with incidents of xenophobia and racism on the part of Greeks. While many are gradually assimilating into Greek society as their living conditions improve, this new multiethnic and multicultural state of affairs has found Greek society unprepared on many levels. Despite some attempts, the Greek state has not managed to keep abreast of the problem. So although Greece has the highest percentage of immigrants in the European Union, large numbers of people are still entering the country illegally. Those who enter legally but stay on after their visas have expired are not followed up on. The legalization system is chaotic, the social assimilation system ineffective. The Greek state does not seem to have decided if and to what degree it will go ahead with a third drive to give immigrants legal status. Seven European Union member states have already passed laws on the participation of immigrants in local elections, but Greece is still seeking a way to register its immigrant population. Pending a review of the state’s immigration policy, the Immigration Policy Institute (IPI), essentially the government’s technical adviser, is in the final stages of an overview of all the qualitative and quantitative factors involved, based on five surveys by universities and research foundations. Fifteen years after the first wave of immigrants arrived, half of them are still living and working illegally in Greece, despite the fact that their numbers are still increasing rapidly. If steps are not taken soon, the average immigrant, who is an employed, 40-year-old family man of low to middle educational level, probably from an Eastern European country, is at risk of remaining on the margins.