OPINION

Migrants in Greece

The meeting of European Union interior ministers at Groeningen in the Netherlands to hammer out common principles for the integration of migrants has touched on a painful subject for the host country. The murder of director Theo van Gogh by a young Moroccan who was enraged because the director had made a film about the Muslim women who suffer abuse has highlighted, in the bloodiest fashion, some of the dilemmas associated with integrating immigrants – dilemmas related not only to pressures which migrants themselves face, but also to the friction caused when the values they bring from their homelands clash with those of the reception country. The 11 basic principles presented by the Dutch presidency of the EU have put the matter on the right track by recognizing that immigrants must enjoy basic rights on an equal basis with native-born citizens, but also that integration requires adaptation on their part. These principles are general, however. They do not stipulate measures for member states to adopt. Besides, the EU cannot replace national legislation on an issue whose manifestations differ widely from one country to another according to the influx of immigrants. This means that Greece must determine those specific measures by which it will facilitate the integration of immigrants in such a way as to ensure both compliance with the law and protection of the migrants. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos has already indicated the Greek government’s approach by emphasizing that with such problems, the enlargement of freedom rather than its contraction must be sought. This is a positive stance, but it remains to be formulated in specific measures. On this matter Greece must overcome the delays and timidity that have thus far characterized its migration policy (or the lack on one), initially leading to unfettered illegal immigration and later to piecemeal legalization moves which became synonymous with red tape and the exploitation of migrants by various swindlers. The presentation of the EU principles represents a second chance for Greece to rationalize the legalization procedure that currently plagues both migrants and administrative services. The next step must be to institute an ongoing framework for dealing with the issue of work and residence permits, while not neglecting the third vital measure – re-examination of the terms for granting Greek citizenship to those migrants who have lived in Greece since childhood, have graduated from Greek schools and broken away from their own countries. Now, although Greece is today their home, their fate hangs on the renewal of a residence permit.