Thursday 29 March 2012

The Great Immigration Shuffle

One month before national elections in Greece, immigration has become a hot topic. Minister of Citizens’ Protection Michalis Chrisochoides proceeded today with a large-scale security sweep in Athens today dedicated towards arresting and detaining illegal immigrants. This occurs as part of a new policy initiative designed to construct 30 detention centres hosting at least 1,000 illegal immigrants each by 2013.

No sooner was the detention centre policy announced, that several regional and local authorities announced their intention to refuse construction of detention centres in their neighbourhoods. This political NIMBYism was only exacerbated by New Democracy (Mr. Chrisochoides belongs to PASOK), which announced that the “opinion” of local authorities should be taken into account when deciding where to set up the centres. This is tantamount to refusing the set-up of all such centres.

This new initiative is likely to create a number of problems, and appears to have been launched without even a modicum of planning. I will restrict my argument to simple numbers, rather than to the presumed effectiveness of setting up immigrant concentration camps.

The Law of Prevailing Numbers

Media reports indicate that there are over 1 million illegal immigrants in Greece, that between 300-500 enter Greece every day, and that approximately 60,000 illegal immigrants were detained in 2011. Let’s assume that the 1 million headline number is correct. In this case, building detention centres for 30,000 is hardly going to be enough. It is, in fact, only half the arrests of last year alone, and only 3% of the presumed total.

I hesitate to ask what will happen to the remaining 9,970,000 illegal immigrants in Greece, but chances are they will still be on the streets later this year.

The Law of Operating Expenditure

I also have to ask how much this is going to cost, and where the money for capital and operational expenditure will come from. Let’s model some basic numbers: According to the International Committee of the Red Cross’ invaluable reference work on prisons, the average space per inmate is considered 2 m2. This means that if steelframe barracks are built using bunkbeds, the minimum footprint of each camp building will be 2,000 m2. Together with a triple security fence (mentioned in one news article) and furnishings, the minimum capital expenditure cost per camp will be EUR 2,480,000.

Even if disused barracks are used, there will have to be a minimum investment in renovation and facility preparation: none of the barracks shown on TV are suitable for 1,000 inhabitants. In fact, I consider this number to be on the low side: I image that a proper detention facility will cost at least EUR 10,000,000 per unit. But let’s stick with the low number.

Capital Expenditure
# Units
Total Camps
Security Fence, triple
linear m
Barracks, steelframe
Total Capital Expenditure

Operating Costs
# Units
Total Camps
Guards & Staff
Utilities, Miscellaneous
Per Camp

Annual Operating Cost

Total Costs Year 1

Cumulative Costs Year 2
Cumulative Costs Year 3
Cumulative Costs Year 4
Cumulative Costs Year 5


The greatest cost is operating costs. Kathimerini mentions that each camp will have 1000 support staff. I consider this highly unlikely: that would make a staff:”inmate” ratio of 1:1. Let’s model instead 350 staff at an average monthly gross employer wage of EUR 850 per month, x 14 months. This is EUR 4.165 million in staff costs per camp per year.

The greatest expenses will be food. Assuming a per meal cost of EUR 2.5, and 3 meals per day for 365 days per year for 1,000 inmates, then the cost per prison will be 12.775 million. Add a further miscellaneous expenditure of EUR 1,000,000 per camp per year (utilities, etc.), and the operating costs in year 1 reach about EUR 17.94 million per camp, and EUR 538 million for 30 camps. This is almost certainly on the low end of likely costs. 

And herein lies the problem, of course. Greece does not have EUR 538 million per year to manage such a system for 30,000 illegal refugees. If salaries and costs are held stable (no labour inflation), then the 5-year cumulative cost will be EUR 2.765 billion. 


To make a long story short, I believe the government has made a classic tactical error, born of good intentions and the pre-election rush to create positive impressions. The illegal immigrants being rounded up now have nowhere to be held – none of the barracks are ready, there is no space in existing prisons. There is, quite simply, no where to put them. The costs of building and operating 30 detention centres is far too high for a bankrupt country, and the financing quite simply doesn’t exist. And remember that the capacity of 30,000 is about 3% of the total number of now-acknowledged illegal immigrants in Greece.

I forecast two outcomes to this story:

a.   A few thousand immigrants will be rounded up and press-ganged into incomplete barracks without sanitation, food, electricity or other basic amenities. They will probably sleep in surplus military tents all summer, and by fall a new solution will have to be sought for them.

b.  The manifest ill-treatment of these refugees is being compounded, and will lead to yet further and justified complaints by the European Union and the Red Cross in the future. At the same time, political tensions within Greece will increase, as this becomes yet another political football between two incompetent political parties, and between the population at large and its government.

A Potential Solution

Although I don’t have a solution, I can only make one recommendation to the government: step up voluntary repatriation together with a monthly living stipend until repatriation takes place. A monthly stipend of EUR 100 to each illegal immigrant who registers with the government and agrees to a cost-free repatriation to their home country within 10 months. The point of the stipend is to provide cash for registration and a commitment to repatriate.

The maximum costs of this would be as follows:

Maximum stipend
This would cost about EUR 1 billion for 10 months of operation, assuming 100% take-up:

Flight Costs
15 flights per day @ 200 passengers per flight = 3,000 repatriations per day
Assuming average flight costs per hour of EUR 2,000 and an average 6 hour 1-way flight, the total flight costs for 1 year would be about EUR 120,000,000 for 4,950 flights (this assumes 15 flights per day @ 330 days / year).

Total Cost: About EUR 1.120 billion – perhaps EUR 1.5 billion with cost over-runs. (Not counting some costs of management).

The weak point is of course the take-up: how many refugees actually want to return home? The other weak point will be political resistance to paying for all this. I also doubt this scheme would have more than 200,000 take-up offers, so even it can only be part of a larger solution. But it’s still cheaper than housing 30,000 refugees, 3% of the total, over three years in Greece.

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

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