OPINION

Immigration

Greece’s status as a host country for immigrants – as reflected in data released by the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO) – is, more than anything else, bedeviled by uncertainty and confusion. Despite the fact that Greece was until recently a country of emigrants, and despite its people’s firsthand experience of the way developed states organized the reception of those migrants and the problems that arose, when faced with the large influx of migrant populations into our country, we took insufficient measures to deal with the phenomenon. As a result, more than 900,000 migrants currently live on Greek territory, half of whom have no legal status despite efforts – and pressure – to put things in order the past few years. Most of the migrants who arrive here on the basis of bilateral agreements of seasonal employment do not return home but rather seek jobs across the country. In some small local communities, the immigrant population is as high as 25 percent. The discrepancy between their numbers and job demand is causing cracks in the system, while the illegal status of a large section of the migrant population creates a gray zone in which they alternate between the roles of the social victim and the social problem. All of this fuels exploitation and xenophobia among the native population. Furthermore, the slow pace and complexity of the legalization process not only adds to the uphill battle of migrants but also swells the ranks of criminals – even if their wrongdoings consist of no more than procedural omissions. On the occasion of a European interior ministers’ summit in the Dutch city of Groningen a few days ago, Kathimerini was in favor of simplifying the legalization procedure. Rationalizing the process is a necessary step for putting our house in order. At the same time, however, we must be prepared to give answers to the fundamental questions raised by any migration policy: How many people, and under what conditions, should be eligible for legal status; for what period of time; and under what obligations regarding their work and residence? Having been a country of emigration, we know well that the states that hosted us did so under certain conditions. It is naive to believe that Greece can be an exception. People who are finding it hard to make ends meet back in their own countries is a bottomless well. Greece can only receive a very small number of these people. The country cannot afford to legalize everyone who manages to sneak into the country and find a job. Certain limits have to be set, both in terms of duration and numbers, and stuck to. Otherwise, even if we manage to accommodate those who already reside within our borders, soon we may be faced with another wave of immigration and even greater problems. That would deal a blow to our society and the living standards of earlier migrants themselves.