Sunday 1 April 2012

First Results of the Immigration "Sweep"

It’s interesting how the illegal immigration subject in Greece flared up out of nowhere earlier this week, and has now nearly disappeared. Based purely on media citations, one would almost think that the problem has been solved. Experience tells us this is anything but the case.

Nikos Malkouzatos published a very balanced article on immigration in Greece in the Kathimerini English edition 2 days ago. It's definitely worth the read.

Kathimerini also published the results of the immigration "sweep" which started two days ago, and was the subject of my blog post on March 29th. According to information from police headquarters: 

·       A total of 1,918 people were arrested during the “sweeps”
·       Of these, 420 were ordered into detention because they were found to be engaged in criminal activity
·       Of the number detailed, 186 were for possession of narcotics, robberies or prior judicial decisions, and 63 arrests concerned prostitution
·       Of the 420, 234 were found not to have valid residency permits in Greece.

I’m not sure if this is clear to readers or not, but of 1,918 people arrested, only 234 were found not to have valid residency papers.

The entire “sweep”, which used blatant ethnic profiling characteristics to begin with (arresting dark-skinned men or women), had a “success rate” of 12%.

I think what is equally amazing is that if 1,918 people were subjected to a preliminary arrest, and then only 420 people were transferred to detention, this means that 1,498 people were let go: 78% of the total.

The real shocker comes when you realize why they were let go. In most cases, these people apparently either had residency permits, or the right to remain in Greece because they had applied for asylum and their decisions were still pending. So either they were arrested for nothing, hence the police are exceptionally badly trained and led, or simply racist, or the asylum policy in this country is in shambles. Or all three.

Once again, I have to question the basic effectiveness of this policy. I am definitely in favour of resolving the public security aspect, i.e. a situation where thousands of illegal unemployed immigrants are squatting in urban centres, creating a health and security risk.

But does this detention policy really solve the problem? If only 12% of the people arrested were actually “guilty” of being illegal immigrants, what does this mean? Were apologies issued to the remaining “legal” immigrants for their improper arrests and treatment at the hands of the police?

What will happen to the remaining people seeking asylum, who were apparently targeted because of the colour of their skin? If past practice is anything to go by, they will be left on the streets until their asylum application is rejected. Then what?

What is the police doing to identify and arrest people who don’t look like south east Asians, but who are in the country illegally from other countries where the population is lighter-skinned? Need I really specify which ones?

Where will the 420 criminals arrested be placed, given that prisons are full? How long will they stay there? When will they be tried? What is the legal consequence? 

What will be done about the thousands of other refugees, legal and illegal, squatting in Athens, who now cannot leave their squats due to their fear of being arrested, and therefore have no means of supporting themselves? Am we to suppose that starvation or invisibility are credible policy alternatives?

What is being done about the thousands of Greek employers, who make it possible for these 1 million illegals to continue their existence in Greece? Clearly, not all illegals are unemployed. A quick drive among the commercial farms around Marathon or a quick glance everywhere around Athens shows you their employment: on farms; as busboys and dishwashers; mucking out stables; cleaning gyms and restaurants and offices; on some of the few construction sites still working; even delivering souvlaki.

Needless to say, I haven’t seen many Greek souvlaki store owners being bundled into the back of a police van in the full glare of national television for breaking employment and immigration regulations. I wonder why?  

Finally, what should be done about the Schengen and Dublin conventions, which force Greece to retain the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants caught on Greek territory, but who’s priority is to reach western and northern Europe? Should Greece be forced to keep them, as is the current policy? Or shall Greece simply issue them a residency permit and an airplane ticket to Paris and wish them well?

It’s interesting how the Schengen Agreement, which provides for passport-free travel between signatory countries in the European Union, has also become a political issue, with Nicholas Sarkozy recently suggesting that Greece should be expelled from Schengen over illegal immigration. The Greek Minister for Tourism also recently suggested that Greece is “losing” between 3 and 5 million tourists per year over Schengen*, due to the difficulty of issuing Schengen visas. He was comparing Greek arrivals with Turkish arrivals from Russia: Turkey has permitted Russians to enter its country without a visa.

Perhaps this is also part of a solution:

·       Withdraw from the Schengen agreement immediately. It means that Greeks will have to go through a pro-forma passport check to enter the remaining Schengen countries, but this is really not a burden.

·       It also means that millions of German and French tourists visiting Greece will go through a pro forma passport check. However, this already occurs when you arrive in Greece from a non-Schengen country, and it’s really a joke, so it shouldn’t be too painful for our esteemed creditors and their mass tourism operators. If nothing else, it will provide more employment for our hawk-eyed police force.

·       Allow in tourists from selected third countries where a bilateral tourism accord has been signed using a special tourist visa than can be issued be selected travel agencies or airlines. Use this new visa income to partially pay for humane treatment of illegal refugees in Greece, and their immediate repatriation.  

·       Withdraw from the Dublin II Regulation, in which refugees or asylum seekers are transferred to the first country where they entered the EU in order to have their asylum application judged. This is what enables Sweden or France to send back thousands of refugees each year to Greece, and then complain that Greece has a low number of asylum approvals each year.

Unfortunately, the current hash of half-measures, hypocrisy, political incompetence and the wider inability to say “no” to EU treaties which are manifestly harmful to Greece have led the country into this morass. So far, I haven’t seen even the remotest sign that the complex issue of illegal immigration and repatriation is being treated with the seriousness it deserves.

These are human lives we are dealing with, and if we as a society are incapable of addressing real human concerns, fears and aspirations, while fanning the flames of extremism, racism, labour exploitation and xenophobia for political gain, then we truly deserve the situation we are in, and that which is on the horizon.

*It is actually difficult to determine if this claim is true, or if it is the familiar lament of incompetent politicians the world over. Blame someone else. 

Related Posts

29 March 2012

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

The Great Taxi Non-Liberalisation

Sometimes the sheer stupidity of public policy-making in Greece is enough to make me wonder how anyone can tolerate it. Once of the many such examples is that of the great taxi “liberalisation”, which apparently has been at the top of the Troika’s priority list for the past 2 years.

Visitors to Greece last summer, and followers of Greek affairs, will no doubt remember the incredible damage to the tourism industry caused by striking taxi drivers. The pictures of tourists stranded at harbours and airports made their way around the world. Thousands of tourists left Greece, vowing never to return. The situation was such that striking taxi drivers even tried to prevent hotelliers from arranging private transfers of their guests.

Well, after two separate legal proposals, the third legal proposal was apparently passed by Parliamentary Committee on Friday, and is expected to be voted in full Parliamentary session in the near future. The only problem is that it has almost nothing to do with liberalisation.

According to To Vima, the measures included in the law are the following:

a.     In Athens, the maximum number of taxi licenses is set at 3/1000 inhabitants. This means that there will actually be a future reduction of the number of taxis in circulation, since these are estimated at 4/1000.

b.     In Thessaloniki, the number of licenses will be increased to 2.5/1000 inhabitants, meaning a small potential increase in new licenses.

c.     In other regions, licenses will be increased to 2/1000 inhabitants. Some regions will be able to issue new licenses.

The decision whether to increase to these limits is up to the regional administrator (περιφερειάρχης), who will be able to issue the increases in limits. The Minister of Infrastructure will also be able to review the license limits each two years.

A share of new licenses will be given to people with three children and more, or parents of handicapped children to a degree of 67% or more.

At least 100 licenses for special leasing of taxis will be issued in Athens, 50 in Thessaloniki,  and 10 each in Heraklion, Patras, and Larissa. Priority for this will be given to existing license holders.

It should be obvious to anyone reading this draft law just what a deft job the government has made of “liberalisation”:

·       There will be no large-scale increase in new taxi licenses. This means no competition, therefore no benefit to the consumer at least in terms of better service. This also means no entry of new people into this segment, so no employment impact.

·       In restricting the number of licenses, the government side-steps the issue of transferring licenses, which acquire an informal value in the market. The taxation of this value has been left to a separate law, to be passed in the future.

·       The minimisation of special licenses means that hotels are restricted from hiring cars for VIP transfers or excursions, which will continue to be the remit of other favoured classes (bus drivers and limousine drivers). The small number of licenses available across Greece means that there is no practical benefit of this clause.

As with the flip-flop on the labour reserve which occurred in January 2012, it is hard to exaggerate just how much credibility is being lost here. The government has essentially admitted that after incredible damage to Greece’s international reputation from the previous taxi strike, it will issue a pretend law which is anything but liberalisation.

I can well imagine the Troika reaction—assuming anyone is still paying attention to this absurd demand in the first place. As I have written in the past, there is absolutely no consumer or operator value in a liberalisation if it takes place in a recession, and if it takes place in a sector with regulated tariffs (taxi meters). I seriously question why this issue was put on the list in the first place.

However, if I had to make recommendations for “liberalising” the taxi profession in Greece, it would be based on the following set of regulations:

a.     The number of licenses will be set each 5 years by a public private partnership comprising the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Consumers Association and the Union of Taxi Drivers, with each party having 3 votes. The licenses are owned by this partnership and leased to drivers in exchange for an annual fee. 

b.     The number of licenses in major cities will be based on an average of the population criteria of London, Paris, and Berlin, taking into account the fact that the Greek public transport net remains underdeveloped.

c.     All taxi vehicles must be no more than 5 years old and in good condition. They must pass an inspection each year for technical condition and internal condition. Taxis found to fail the standard will be given 1 month to make repairs, or their license will be revoked.

d.     All taxis will be tracked via GPS as a safety and security measure, and to put an end to unlicensed taxis.

e.     All drivers will have to pass a test of driving, street knowledge, cleanliness, and courtesy every five years, with random checks and customer feedback playing a role in evaluation in the interim.

f.      All drivers must be citizens or legal residents of Greece or the European Union, and must speak fluent Greek and one other language. They must pass a professional drivers’ license.

g.     The tariff will be set each 6 months, and will vary based on fuel prices and consumer price inflation. The same public private partnership that sets the number of licenses will set the tariff.

h.     All taxis must display average tariffs and avoid price-gouging of foreign tourists. Tourists should have the right to complain to the driver or, failing this, to the hotel, police force or other third party, with immediate resolution.

i.       Any taxi driver will be able to negotiate a special tariff with any professional or personal employer, at the discretion of the two partners. A standard written template for the contact will exist. Any disputes will be settled by arbitration by the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

j.       Any taxi driver can choose whether to license a 5-seater, 7-seater, 9-seater or 12-seater, or higher, as long as s/he has an equivalent professional driver’s license, and as long as these vehicles are rented by special on-the-spot contract (e.g. to ferry tourists from a hotel to a port), using the same standard template form. Any contracts are to be negotiated between the customer and the taxi driver, with no further state regulation or interference. It is the decision of the driver, with the license being adjusted accordingly. (Licenses will no longer be permanent for standard 5-seater sedans, but can be renewed upon demand).

k.     Any vehicle purchased for the purpose of being driven as a taxi should be free of VAT at the point of purchase. Any taxi over 5 years old should be decommissioned or sold without VAT.

l.       No individual or company should be permitted to own more than 5 taxi licenses.

m.   An independent complaints line will be set up and operated by the Consumers Association and paid for by taxi contributions. This complaints function will have the authority to undertake tribunal proceedings by the Chambers of Commerce or other organisations, and can result in fine or a loss of the taxi license under certain conditions. The GPS track of the taxi should be accessible in case of a complaint or legal action.

This would be something more similar to “liberalisation”, in that it:

a.     Provides the possibility for restrictions on the number of licenses (safeguarding the profession), but providing for increasing supply and demand via changing the mix of passenger vehicle capacities.

b.     Provides price flexibility, which is important for consumers and certain demand categories (e.g. hotels).

c.     Takes regulation out of the dead hands of the government and into a tripartite organisation where different parties are represented.

d.     Addresses the issue of tariff price variability in response to changing energy prices and inflation.

e.     Assures consumers of taxi services modern, cleaner vehicles and better drivers.

f.      Protects the consumer against price gouging-particularly of foreigners or tourists.

The only thing this proposal does not do is end the numerous conspiracy theories circulated by Greek taxi drivers, or their propensity to smoke in their vehicles, or their affinity for Derty FM. I suppose they wouldn’t be Greek taxi drivers if this were any different.

Related Posts

17 July 2011

© Philip Ammerman, 2012