OPINION

Shutting the door on illegal migration

Illegal migration seems to be a global challenge that has been made worse by the contradictory measures adopted by host countries. The end of the Soviet system in Eastern Europe and the changes unleashed by the globalization process have swollen the ranks of migrants. It is common knowledge that Greece has received a comparatively high number of immigrants. Its geographical position and the inadequate preparation of the state apparatus have allowed, over the past 15 years, an unchecked and anarchic inflow of clandestine migrants. The existing situation is irreversible. Over the years, it became clear that for humanitarian and social reasons, deporting the hundreds of thousands of newcomers was impossible. It was too late to change the facts of migration in Greece. But toleration of illegal migration, a source of numerous problems, clearly had to stop. The only realistic solution to the chaos was stricter border controls and legalization. A PASOK government a few years ago tried to restore order by awarding residence permits to the thousands of illegal migrants already living in the country. The initiative became caught up in the mills of bureaucracy. In the end, the problem was perpetuated rather than solved. New legislation promoted by the conservative government of Costas Karamanlis aims to settle the issue for good. For sure, good intentions are not enough. The government’s campaign will be judged by its outcome. Migrants have for years constituted a bottomless reserve of clandestine labor. This has helped push down costs in many sectors of the economy but, at the same time, it was responsible for many social problems that mainly hit the lower-income levels. Pressure has already started to ease and there are signs that a considerable section of migrants have started to integrate with the host population. The goal from now on should be to bar the illegal entry of refugees. The presence of refugees who cannot be absorbed into the domestic economy will revive the problem of clandestine labor and exacerbate social problems. The government’s legalization drive alone won’t do. What is needed is constant state monitoring of the situation.