NEWS

Life without identification papers: The fate of immigrants’ children who are born and grow up in modern-day Greece

By Catherine Boitard – Agence France-Presseorn in Greece to a Nigerian father and a Cameroonian mother, Catherine Ananois has waited 20 years for her adoptive country to even acknowledge her existence. The young dancer is one of thousands of second-generation immigrants who feel Greek, speak Greek and pursue a Greek education but are helpless against a state bureaucracy and laws that still deny them Greek citizenship. «When I was 16, I had to obtain a certificate to enroll in a school exam. That’s when I realized I’m a person without a country,» Ananois said. «I have no papers, not even a birth certificate,» she told AFP. Without these documents, Ananois cannot travel outside the country, obtain a driver’s license, or even open a bank account. Greece only recognizes citizenship by blood, not by birth, meaning that even being born on Greek soil does not bring citizenship if the parents are foreign. The authorities only issue birth certificates to parents listed on municipal registries, which are only open to Greek citizens. All other requests for birth certificates are forwarded to the parents’ respective embassies. «This practice assumes that the embassies are actually functioning and willing to cooperate, which is not always the case, particularly with African embassies,» said Sonia Mitralia, a migrant rights activist. The Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO), the top Greek organization researching migrant figures and trends and a state adviser on immigration policy, calculates that the number of young people in Greece born here to migrant families numbers about 20,000, since migration largely started in the 1990s. «This problem affects a limited number of people,» IMEPO Chairman Alexandros Zavos told AFP in an interview. He added that the law is fundamentally sound and blamed the low number of beneficiaries on the difficulty of applicants to get through Greece’s cumbersome public bureaucracy. But the issue will only grow in importance in coming years: In 2006, there were 108,000 migrants’ children – mostly Albanian – enrolled in Greek schools according to IMEPO. Half of them said they wanted to stay and make a living in Greece. Zavos says he recently proposed to the government a broad naturalization of foreigners born in Greece. «Such a step would be wonderful,» said Dolores Kacorri, an Albanian immigrant living in Greece for the past 10 years and exhausted from having to perpetually renew the annual residence permits of her three children. Each renewal costs 150 euros and is compulsory for minors over 14 years old. After a decade of legal residence in Greece, Kacorri’s two eldest children can now apply for Greek citizenship. But as their mother noted, «each application costs 1,500 euros, more than twice the minimum salary. These applications are almost always rejected but the money is not reimbursed.»