NEWS

The ordeal of a Sudanese-Greek teenager

He was born in Greece, is 20 years old and is studying computer engineering at Aristotle University. His brother, 19, was born in Greece and works. Their sister, 15, was born in Greece and goes to junior high school. Their mother was born in Sudan and has lived in Greece for 24 years. All four are illegal residents here. Panteion University’s Medi-terranean Migration Observatory estimates that 250,000 children have been born in Greece to parents who are migrants or refugees. National Statistical Service data for 2004-07 show that while births to Greek women rose just 2.99 percent (from 88,303 to 91,455) births to foreign women rose by 21.48 percent (from 16,852 to 20,471). The law, however, does not deem the latter group of children to be Greek citizens, and this is one of the problems that the new government says it will address. On October 15, Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said that legislative reforms in the pipeline would ensure that child migrants who have grown up in Greece and merit protection would not be subject to deportation. The family mentioned above was the subject of the first case of legal activism by the National Commission for Human Rights (EEDA). The commission took action after the younger son was arrested three weeks ago in Vari, southeast Athens, by a policeman who was amazed at his command of the Greek language. He was detained for two weeks along with another 50 foreigners, a relatively short period, as detention usually lasts for months. But when his story was made public on the www.diavatirio.net website, it attracted the attention of EEDA, which decided to take on the case pro bono. Once his detention order was suspended, they appealed against the deportation order and applied to the Interior Ministry for a residence permit to be granted, citing special circumstances. Until the charges are dropped, the young African Greek is at risk. In fact, he is luckier than most, because attorneys’ fees for such cases are prohibitively high. Also his mother’s long-term residence in the same city has enabled her to produce documents demonstrating the family’s close ties with Greece. There are many precedents from the European Court of Human Rights, where criteria showing close ties with the country – birthplace, command of the language, family ties, education and work – have outweighed even serious crimes. The same does not apply in Greece, however. In this case, the three children had visited Sudan once, when they were very young. The family’s legal status in Greece was maintained while the children’s father regularly renewed his residence permit. But the couple’s divorce in 2004 and the husband’s unpaid tax debts resulted in the family losing legal residence status. The mother – like many foreigners – was unaware of her rights, and tax officials made no effort to assist a frightened woman on her own. Afraid that she would be forced to pay her spouse’s debts, she left the tax office without obtaining the tax statement required to renew her residence permit. For the children, life went on as before. As the 19-year-old said: «As long as you’re at school, you don’t understand the difference. But the minute you leave, you realize that something’s not right. I think the law is unjust and wrong. It would be the same as taking Sudanese nationality away from Greeks who’ve been living there for generations.» He dreams of working in the merchant marine, but is not entitled to because obsolete laws reserve a number of occupations solely for those who have Greek nationality. Asked how police checks affect him, he said: «It bothered me and it still does, but I try not to think about it, because I can’t do anything. Especially in summer, they kept pulling me over. All the other times, though, they let me go because I spoke fluent Greek.» The police in Vari had to follow the rules because the 19-year-old had no legal status. In fact, the policeman who arrested him called the Aliens’ Bureau to recommend it act quickly to apply for a special circumstances residence permit because otherwise the lad, who has a Sudanese passport, would be deported. When the family heard of the deportation order, an indistinct threat that had hovered over them for years suddenly acquired substance. The mother realized they would all have to go to what was essentially a foreign country to her children. The elder son would have to give up university, while the daughter would have to leave school and, worst of all, would be subjected to social pressure to undergo a clitoridectomy. The mother assembled documents that demonstrated the family’s links with Greece, including old residence permits and the children’s school graduation certificates. When she handed them over to the presiding judge in a short meeting, the judge accepted that there were strong ties to Greece and ruled that the boy was not likely to evade justice. The attorneys saw it as «a victory for reason,» which highlighted the shortcomings in both Greek nationality legislation and migrant policy. They pointed out that, had the family not been illegal, all four of them would have had to get their permits renewed every two years, as do tens of thousands of foreigners. They described it as incredibly counterproductive red tape that nurtures corruption. «Have you ever thought how many police and judges waste their time on such sheer absurdity?» asked one. Rights of children in limbo Pupils of foreign origin represent 9.5 percent of students in Greek primary and secondary schools, and more than 5 percent of students in tertiary education. Yet once they come of age, they are treated as if they were newly arrived migrants. «So far there has been no solution,» said attorney Vassilis Chronopoulos from www.diavatirio.net. He explained that a legal amendment passed in 2007 to deal with long-term residents encountered obstacles. So far, only five permits have been issued. Applicants must have been born in Greece to parents who were legally resident in Greece while the children were growing up, thus making the second generation’s status dependent on that of their parents. Moreover, each applicant must pay a fee of 900 euros, which does not comply with European legislation, which stipulates that long-term residence should not be subject to a fee. Chronopoulos believes the new government will produce a viable solution. He objects to parents’ legal status being a prerequisite for children’s citizenship or any other permanent residence permit because, he argues, «there will still be children who have no rights in the country where they were born.» «Until a new law on citizenship is passed, the state should ensure that no child who was born here or grew up here is deported.»