Immigrant rights on agenda

The Cabinet is due to discuss this afternoon a piece of groundbreaking legislation that the government wants to introduce that would lead to the children of immigrants living in Greece legally being given Greek citizenship and foreigners gaining the right to vote in municipal elections. One of PASOK’s election pledges was that it would break with the past and allow immigrants’ children to have the right to call themselves Greek, as opposed to leaving them to fall into a bureaucratic limbo. According to recent European Union statistics, there are just over 900,000 immigrants in Greece, comprising 8.1 percent of the country’s population. According to sources, the Interior Ministry is in the process of preparing two bills that will be discussed during today’s Cabinet meeting. The first proposes that children of immigrants who have been living legally in Greece for the last five years be allowed to gain Greek citizenship. This right will also be afforded to children who have not been born in Greece but who have attended the first three years of primary school or have studied for a total of six years at Greek schools. In both cases, when they reach the age of 18, these children will be asked if they want Greek citizenship: If they do, they will immediately gain the right to vote but, in the case of the boys, will also have to carry out military service. If they reject Greek citizenship, they will not be offered it again. The second bill that will be up for discussion today is one that would grant some 220,000 ethnic Greeks from abroad and foreigners who live in Greece on indefinite residence permits the right to vote in municipal elections. Sources said the Interior Ministry estimates that two-thirds of this group is made up of ethnic Greeks. The government hopes that by giving them the right to vote, it will deter criticism from right-wingers, the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), that it is favoring foreigners over people with Greek roots. The Interior Ministry organized an event last Friday for the first time, «Feels Like Home,» which was dedicated to immigrants, giving them an opportunity to showcase their cultures in central Athens.

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