A Real Greek Tragedy: Repeated Amnesties Fail There Too
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October 21, 2008

Greece is situated in the southeast part of the Mediterranean Sea. In the north the country borders with Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of "Macedonia" (the name is disliked by Greeks, who consider it an attempt to appropriate the glories of Ancient Macedonia) and Bulgaria. The neighbor to the East is Turkey, with a small land border in the northeast area of Thrace and the extended sea borders of the Aegean Sea. To the south lies Africa, and Italy is to the West. Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1980, but, to the country's misfortune, had no land borders with any other EU country until 2007 when Bulgaria joined.

Greece's geographical position makes it the EU's gatekeeper from the East.

Until the late '80s Greece was largely a homogeneous country with a population consisting of Greek Orthodox (98%), a minority of Greek Muslims situated mostly in the northern area of Thrace, and some smaller communities of Catholics and Jews. But after the fall of communist regimes, a mass influx of illegal immigrants took place, mostly from the neighboring countries of the North. The influx consisted not only of ethnic Greeks from these countries, but also of Albanians, Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans.

The centre-right government of the time (1990-1993) was not prepared to tackle the situation and, despite mounting some deportation efforts, it reluctantly tolerated this influx.

With the immigrant population steadily increasing and a black market for cheap labor having been created, the centre-left government (1993-2004) decided to do something about it. The proposals to the government both from the police and a special committee that was set up were to record all illegal immigrants in the country but to offer a chance to regularization (something like an amnesty) only to illegal immigrants who did not originate from neighboring countries. Moreover, the proposals recommended that the scope of the regularization was to be short-term and that it should try to fill existing labor market needs.

In 1997 the government decided to offer a chance of regularization to all illegal immigrants. (At that time their number was estimated to be about 500,000). This effort was largely unsuccessful as it managed to regularize only half of that population, while the influx of illegal immigrants continued.

The centre-left government decided to offer illegal immigrants a second chance of regularization in 2001 (at that time their number was estimated to be about 650,000). Due to their sheer number and the inadequacy of Greek public administration infrastructure, this effort failed as well.

This "policy" of successive regularizations was continued by the centre-right government that regained office in 2004. (It should be noted that, while in opposition, the centre-right party had criticized the centre-left government's regularization efforts.) Two more regularization chances were offered, in 2005 and in 2007.

But the situation only gets worse. According to the latest available data Greece's immigrant population is about 1,250,000 people, 350,000 of whom are ethnic Greeks from neighboring Albania and the ex-USSR. This leaves about 900,000 non-Greek immigrants, 600,000 of whom have a residence permit through consecutive regularizations. The remaining 300,000 are the official estimate of the illegal immigrant population in the country.

About 60% of the regularized immigrants come from neighboring Albania (a country with a grudge against Greece), followed by 5% from Bulgaria.

But in the last few years the numbers of illegal immigrants from Africa and Asia are also rising. They come either through the eastern borders with Turkey or cross the Mediterranean Sea in small boats (usually from Egypt). According to another estimate by the National Intelligence Service (the Greek Secret Service) the total number of immigrants in Greece (both regularized and illegal) could be as high as 2,500,000 people!

Taking into account that Greece's total population is about 11,000,000 then, officially, non-Greek immigrants make-up 8.2% of the country's total population. In US terms, this would be the equivalent of receiving a population of 17,000,000 ex post facto regularized immigrants (through amnesty bills) and 8,200,000 illegal immigrants in the last 18 years.

The Greek governments made a catastrophic mistake in starting the dominoes of successive regularizations falling. This policy sent out the wrong message. It gave the impression that Greece is soft touch and if someone somehow makes it into the country they will get a chance of regularization sooner or later.

Moreover, Greek governments, by offering regularization, essentially rewarded the breach of the law both by illegal immigrants (illegal entry/stay) and by those who employed them (hire of illegal labor).

Ironically, the EU's official position is that the decision to take in immigrants lies solely within each Member-State. Furthermore, the EU is officially firmly against large-scale regularizations and favors the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

Specifically, the EU points out that (1): "Within the context of a managed immigration policy the only coherent approach to dealing with illegal residents is to ensure that they return to their country of origin" (p.19). The EU also emphasizes that "wide-scale regularization measures…aare not…seen to have a long-term effect in reducing the levels of illegal migrants, instead they may serve as an additional pull factor for illegal migrants…[R]egularizations should not be considered as a way of managing migration flows as in reality they often appear as a negative consequence of migration policy in other areas" (p.17). [Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Study on the links between legal and illegal migration, Brussels, 4.6.2004 COM(2004) 412 final PDF | HTML]

As a result of this suicidal "immigration policy", illegal immigration to Greece has exploded in recent years. Not surprisingly, asylum applications have surged too.







Asylum applications









Arrests for illegal entry by sea









Total arrests for illegal entry & illegal stay










Greece, due to its geographical position and in spite of being a small country with a faltering economy, has to carry a disproportionate amount of the EU's illegal immigration and asylum applications burden. According to the latest UNHCR report [PDF] the industrialized countries with the most asylum applications are the US, Sweden, France, Canada, the UK and Greece. But, if the asylum applications are compared to each country's population then Sweden tops the table with a massive 4 applications per 1,000 inhabitants followed by Greece with 2.34.


Asylum applications in 2007


Asylum applications per 1000 inhabitants

























The repercussions of the mismanagement of Greece's immigration issue are beginning to show. Using the country's newly-found population "diversity" as a Trojan Horse the established media, the academic elite and establishment politicians are pushing for the application of the doctrine of multiculturalism in all aspects of public life but mainly in Education. They have started revising all school textbooks, especially those of History, in order to make them more "inclusive", although it is questionable how a nation's history can be "revised" in order to "include" and "accommodate" children originating from 75 different countries (as is the case in Attica  schools).

Furthermore, the elites are promoting a 'liberal' sense of nationality and they want to change Greece's Citizenship code. Moreover, plans for voting rights for regularized immigrants, birthright citizenship for their children and affirmative action plans are under way.

Due to the uncontrollable influx of illegal immigrants, Greece's major cities can now boast of "no-go areas" and ghettos! Not surprisingly, they were followed by ethnic clashes and riots. The following cases are illustrative:

  •  In September 2004, after a soccer match between Albania and Greece, extended clashes took place between Greeks and Albanians in many areas of Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki and in the cities of Corfu, Rhodes, Volos, Larissa, Corinth, Tripolis and Nafplion. One man was left dead and there were at least 50 wounded from the clashes.

  • In mid-August 2007 clashes between riot police and groups of Nigerian immigrants and anarchists took place for two days in Thessaloniki after the deadly fall off a balcony of a Nigerian who tried to escape the police

  • In mid-July 2008, in the ghettoized Athens area of Agios Panteleimon, a group of 100 people of Iranian, Afghan and Kurdish origin stormed a house where a group of 40 people of the same nationalities resided. The clashes spilled on to the street, one man was wounded and severe damages were sustained by the house and parked cars. According to the police the two groups consisted of Muslims who clashed for religious reasons.

  • In late-August 2008, in the ghettoized Athens area of "Historical centre", two groups of a total of 150 people consisting mainly of African immigrants clashed violently using iron bars, axes, knives and machetes. More than 20 were left wounded and 19 were arrested. All those arrested came from Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea, were between 17 to 25 years of age and had entered Greece illegally.

  • Finally, in early-September 2008, in the harbor-city of Patras where more than 2,000 Afghans try to illegally board ships to Italy, serious clashes took place between groups of about 200 Afghans and anarchists and the port police. The Afghans invaded the harbor and threw stones to the police. 19 port police officers and one immigrant were wounded, 3 patrol cars were damaged and serious damages were sustained by port buildings, nearby buildings, shops and cars.

These clearly demonstrate the Greece has become an integral part of Western Europe – at least as far as immigrant riots are concerned. These clashes resemble those that took place in cities of Northern England in 2001 and in Paris in 2005.

Greece is a country under siege, with the enemy moving freely inside the walls.

Ioannis Kolovos [Send him mail] lives in Athens and is the author of the books Pandora's Box: Illegal Immigration and Regularization in Greece (Athens: Pelasgos Publications, 2003) and The End of a Utopia: the collapse of multicultural societies in Western Europe (Athens: Pelasgos Publications, 2008).

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