Migration can benefit old and new country

« Migrants are a fact that will not go away. That’s why we have to see what there is to give and to get. So let’s talk in realistic terms and avoid sentimental blurring,» Alexandros Zavos, president of the Migration Policy Institute, told Kathimerini. «Some people blur the issue with sentimentality to the effect that they undermine the future of Greece. The only subject that interests the public and gets media attention cannot be whether migrants are more likely to be criminals than Greeks or whether they should be allowed to hold the Greek flag.» The majority of migrants in Greece are from neighboring countries or others not far away from whom we are not separated by great differences. Religion is not an inhibiting factor and there are some shared cultural characteristics. «If we do it properly, we can create a network of relations with neighboring countries that will prove to be very beneficial in the future. Our country can develop into a service supply center for the Balkans,» said Zavos. Migrants could come here to study. Children who are already here can become business executives and professionals who will take the stamp of Greece with them when they return to their countries of origin to work. People who already work here or who come here to work can be employed on the basis of their skills and expertise. The healthy development of Greek enterprises abroad can tie in harmoniously with the development of our neighbors here. One of Greece’s greatest comparative advantages over other EU member states, Zavos believes, is that it was not a colonial power. A number of Western European countries allowed migrants to enter more readily in the past because they knew the languages and had already assimilated cultural elements of the reception countries that had colonized their own countries. But although they had the right to become citizens, they were usually employed in menial positions and remained on the sidelines of society. Hence ghettos came into being and eventually some of those migrants or their descendants felt driven to uprisings and insurrections. As Zavos explained to Kathimerini, the situation is reflected clearly in the legislation of such states. A close reading of French migration law, for instance, shows that France has always wanted to impose strict controls and security measures on migrants. Looking at laws passed since World War II, one sees that following the collapse of the Eastern bloc, our partners in the EU began to roll back their traditional policies. They became less willing to accept migrants; foreigners were given far less opportunity to acquire citizenship, social benefits were cut back and laws became tougher. Some EU countries now demand that migrants who wish to obtain long-term residence rights must attend 600-630 hours of language lessons. «We said it; Interior Minister Pavlos Pavlopoulos said it, that there can be no integration of migrants without the participation of the entire society,» said Zavos. «That’s why we will make a huge effort to mobilize volunteers in specific activities. For example, we want some teachers to teach Greek, some lawyers to explain the law. We’ve contacted the Parliament Foundation in order to plan how we can show migrants the role Parliament plays. It’s obvious that when you want to integrate people into society and eventually give them the vote, they must understand who they are going to elect. «Some staff are attending special seminars and this year the Public Administration school started a new department for those who will be dealing with migrants. «We also want to work closely with academics. Recently we held a meeting with seven professors who are involved in the issue and with the director of the Athens Academy’s research center. «They will try to collect all the studies on the subject that are presently scattered around at various institutions in Greece.» Low birthrates and the work force Three people out of every 100 on this planet are migrants. Low birthrates among Western Europeans have led their governments to seek workers. «All states have adopted methods of grading migrants according to their age, knowledge, education and expertise. We can do the same, once we get better control of our borders,» said Zavos, who claims that despite the economic crisis in Greece, there is unmet demand for certain categories of workers. Organizations such as the Federation of Greek Industries and chambers of commerce are invited to participate in planning for the new migration policy. They can give indications of the demand for skilled labor that can be met by trained migrant workers. They can also help the government to decide on matters such as which workers it wants to keep, whether it is in the public interest to allow migrants to move back and forth between their countries and Greece, with which states it wants to cultivate relations that allow such movement, and how to plan migration policy. In connection with migration management, Greece is participating in Gaining from Migration, a major Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development survey. The OECD wants to evaluate the benefits of migration to the home country and the reception country. For example, 30 percent of Albania’s GDP comes from migrants, and 21 percent of that is from Greece. The survey will include a special study of Greece and Turkey «which will determine our priorities – what has to be done in the next 10-15 years so as to achieve certain objectives,» explained Zavos. In 2004, an estimated $222 billion was sent to banks around the world by migrants, Another $300 billion is estimated to have been transferred outside bank channels. The World Bank – which understandably has a special interest in migration – has embarked on a wide-ranging survey (in which Greece is participating) into the economic profile of migrants. In addition to questions about the process by which migrants arrived, whether they wish to return home, their present economic state, what they have gained and whether they send money home, the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO) and Athens University have added other questions concerning the economic profile of migrants. These include their relations with Greeks and whether they are involved in activities in the areas whether they live. Due for completion in the summer, it will be the first large-scale, high-quality survey of the economic and social profile of migrants in Greece. IMEPO is also creating a database which will eventually assemble information from all the social insurance funds (such as IKA, TEBE and OGA), the Public Order Ministry, the Foreign Affairs Ministry which issues visas and the Education Ministry, since the children of both legal and illegal migrants attend school.

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