Lessons from the hunger strike

The fact that the 44-day hunger strike at the listed building in downtown Athens ended without loss of life or violence is a positive development. There was, however a political cost, as the state not only indirectly offered the migrants permanent legal status through a renewable grace period, but also because it made two concessions that concern all illegal immigrants: reducing the number of social security stamps required to renew work permits and reducing the number of years migrants need to have been living (illegally) in the country before they can apply to be granted legal status.

These concessions and the image of ministers negotiating with illegal migrants sent the wrong message, confirming that the state can be blackmailed and allowing the ?professional? protectors of illegal migrants to score points and set a precedent.

The worst thing was that public discourse was limited to the takeover of Athens University?s Law School and the hunger strike when it should have been focused on addressing the problem rather than the symptoms of illegal immigration. And the problem is that over 80 percent of the illegal immigrants headed for Europe end up in Greece.

Many Greeks continue to approach the crucial and complex subject of illegal immigration through emotionally charged rhetoric and the symbolic demonization of certain measures, such as the proposed border fence for Evros. In fact, what they preach is that tolerance for illegal immigration is a standard of progressiveness.

To begin addressing the problem, the government needs to move in four areas: stemming the flow of migrants into Greece by making it harder for them to enter the country; clearing up the backlog of applications for political asylum; putting the responsibility of repatriation in the hands of the European Union; and demanding the implementation of a common European migration policy. Greece?s European peers are benefited by the fact that the former has become a kind of dumping ground that stands between them and illegal migrants. In order to force them to show a greater interest in the issue, all Athens can do is refuse to play this role.

Finally, the government needs to adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward illegal labor. When and if it is deemed that the Greek economy needs more labor, then it can adopt a policy of organized immigration. Such measures deter the phenomena of abuse, illegal labor and racism and are the real progressive answer to the illegal immigration problem both from a moral and a political perspective.

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