NEWS

Voting rights and more time for migrants?

The process of allowing migrants living in Greece without residence permits to legalize their stay may be extended beyond the end of the year as the government examines the possibility of giving immigrants voting rights as well, the interior minister said yesterday. Under the immigration law passed earlier this year, migrants who have been living in Greece for over a year without a permit can legalize their stay by the end of the year. «If needed, we will make amendments to the law and extend the deadline,» said Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos in Parliament yesterday. Of the some 1 million immigrants currently living in Greece, it is estimated that around 500,000 entered the country illegally or are living here without the necessary paperwork. Human rights groups and lawyers have expressed concerns that the law is too strict and could leave thousands of migrants out of the process. Pavlopoulos had indicated before that the government is open to the idea of making changes to the law but, until yesterday, there had been no mention of the application process being extended. He was responding to a question from Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Fotis Kouvelis, who said that ghettos inhabited by migrants were being formed in Athens. «The events in France should stir consciences. It is time a process was formed for migrants who have been living a long time in Greece to be given political rights,» said Kouvelis. Pavlopoulos denied there was segregation in Greece. «There are no ghettos in Greece like those seen in other Western European countries,» said the minister. «This society and people considers the migrant sacred.» A poll made public on Wednesday, however, appears to contradict this claim. The survey found that almost eight in 10 Greeks felt that migrants had not contributed anything to the country. The same proportion of respondents felt that immigrants were the main reason for a rise in crime. PASOK has sought to stress the fact that it has begun a drive to bring migrants into its party and has been pressuring the government to allow immigrants to vote. Pavlopoulos criticized the Socialists yesterday for not having «done anything to confront the problem» while they were in power. The minister added that the ruling conservatives were looking at the possibility of giving migrants with long-term residence permits the right to vote in municipal and mayoral elections. The minister did not indicate when migrants could expect to have the right to vote.