Accepting a changing society

However, it’s hard to see the point of a quick and fair application system if those rejected are not returned to their countries. A tough stand on returnees might not challenge good sense but treads the limits of Greek political correctness. Deportation is a non-starter, giving voice to critics who slam the asylum procedure as a back door to illegal migration. Too much abuse of the system will make locals less responsive to people who are in real need of protection. «There is no way that we want to encourage the misuse of the asylum system. People who have their cases rejected, but in a procedure that has integrity, should technically be returned,» Farkas notes. «However,» she stresses, «you need to be absolutely comfortable that all legal recourse has been tried, that that person has had every single piece of evidence heard and that there has been an entirely independent procedure. And if, by the time you get to the end of that process, the decision still remains negative, then you have to say, ‘Sorry, but we have to deport you now.’» That’s easier said than done. Liberal guilt or not, no one likes to see miserable people being forcefully put on a bus out of here. Greece, like most European nations, is trying to come to terms with a changing society. Demographics «The Greek state has realized that the arrival of immigrants and asylum seekers and the necessity of integrating them appropriately into Greek society is something that it will have to deal with and is not going to go away.» The problem is that we tend to see migrants as a problem and not as a solution. Like most of Europe, Greece actually needs more migrants. Falling birthrates and an aging labor force have put an enormous strain on social security funds and intensified the demand for a fresh work force. That is, workers who are eager to do the jobs that Greek youths snub. So the economy wants them. But what about the people? Demographics rarely strike a chord with the masses. The massive influx of foreigners in the 1990s has not gone down well with most Greeks. Many see them as a threat to their jobs and culture or, worse, as plain criminals. A 2003 survey found Greeks showed the highest levels of xenophobia in the EU. As always, scapegoating is easier than change. Farkas doesn’t lose heart. «There is a bit of a dichotomy in some way. Because you find that with the general population, once they get to know the person in front of them, the refugee or asylum seeker, they are only too willing to help them.» She has seen it happen. «I have met police officers in the Evros region who look into the face of human misery every day… providing refugees with money from their pockets to make telephone calls, to try and find people who can help, providing them transportation money to bring them to Athens once they had been served their deportation orders.» If personal experience is any judge, then there is a good case for optimism. Greeks have a history of hospitality and asylum that goes back to antiquity. They themselves have been emigrating to other countries for decades. They have been a diaspora group. They have had refugees and population exchanges. Farkas offers a typical mix of optimism and pragmatism: «I really think they will honor their international commitment. It may just take some time to put all the pieces together; it’s going to take some time for this all to come down to the administrative level.» Despite the mammoth challenges, the conservative government’s performance in this area after a bit more than a year in office has been encouraging. «The situation is definitely improving, albeit slowly. But it’s still got a long way to go before I stop speaking to women who have been certified as torture victims and yet are unable to get official assistance. I mean, how much more do we need?»

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