PASOK woos migrants

Of all of George Papandreou’s initiatives to remake PASOK, few have been as clear as his overture to the country’s immigrant population. In a fresh display of solidarity with foreign minorities, the Socialist party yesterday stressed the need to integrate migrants into Greek society and laid out PASOK’s proposals to that end. In view of the Socialist party congress, ultimately (after three deferments) set to take place on March 3, PASOK recently announced that migrants will have the right to be enrolled as party members and be eligible to be congress delegates. PASOK cadres hope the congress will put an end to a long period of ideological confusion and ambiguity that has prevented the party from capitalizing on the government’s blunders such as the cotton farmers’ standoff and the self-imposed deficit revision. In a briefing with foreign journalists yesterday, PASOK’s General Secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis said that successful integration can only be achieved if minorities feel they are on an equal footing with mainstream society, adding that politics has to adapt to the changing anatomy of Greek society. «Needs are changing and therefore policies must change,» he said. The number of immigrants in Greece has almost quintupled over the past 15 years. About one million immigrants live in the country today, in some places making up as much as a quarter of the population. However, some 400,000 migrants remain illegal, prompting the government to launch a fresh drive to award them legal status. Results are pending. The Socialist governments have often come under fire for failing to take measures against the unchecked influx of illegal migrants following the collapse of the communist states in the early ’90s. Integration should be a two-way process involving the immigrants’ active participation, the former public order minister said, echoing Papandreou’s pet mantra about «participatory democracy.» «There can be no dialogue about migrants without their participation,» Chrysochoidis said. Introducing more legislation simply won’t do on its own. «Rather, we must mobilize society as a whole,» he added. «We are not bringing this [migrants’ participation] as a gift; it is something we want to discuss,» he said. Although Greece styles itself as a self-confident, open-minded society, it has only grudgingly accepted its status as an immigrant society. The lingering controversy over plans to construct an Islamic center in Attica, long resisted by local communities and the Church, shows the public feels uncomfortable with the large numbers of immigrants – especially non-Christians. Chrysochoidis admitted that public prejudice could take its toll on the Socialist party, but politicians ought to be up to the task. «Parties must take initiatives, not passively absorb the news,» he said. Papandreou’s aim to fashion his party along more inclusive, pluralist lines appears to be out of tune with a society that is growing more conservative. According to a study released late last year, 54 percent of migrants felt that Greeks do not want them to settle here while 63 percent believed the state does not help them integrate into society. Many foreigners who have legally entered the country complain that the state bureaucracy does not implement rules that are already in place. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people who have submitted their applications for work and residence permits are still waiting to have them processed. Until this is done, these people cannot even leave the country. Middle of the road Asked whether Greece should aim to assimilate migrants or opt for a multicultural model, Chrysochoidis pointed at a middle-of-the-road approach: «We should not oblige people (to assimilate). It’s better to provide them (with different options) and let them decide.» Champions of multiculturalism defend this as being more responsive to difference and charge pro-assimilation policies of connoting a sense of racial superiority. However, a recent upsurge of racist violence carried out by migrants in European nations, notably in the Netherlands, has fanned criticism of multiculturalism with immigrants blamed for free-riding on a model that they come to reject. Chrysochoidis said that empowering migrants to participate in PASOK’s coming congress was in line with European Union calls for a more active migrant role in public life. In its November report on immigration in Greece, the Council of Europe suggested that Greek authorities give foreigners who have settled in the country the right to vote and stand for office in local government. On Sunday, PASOK will host a Day of National Dialogue on Migration, part of a public awareness campaign on these issues.

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