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. 

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29 March 2012

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

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