As Greece continues a sweep of illegal aliens, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is proposing to eliminate a law that grants citizenship to immigrants, many of them minors who were born in Greece, attend Greek schools and speak Greek.
With his New Democracy conservatives falling behind the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Samaras is moving to make good on pledges before the June 17th elections to target the country’s growing immigrant base.
Samaras’ critics, which include his coalition partners, the PASOK Socialists and Democratic Left, complained the move is unfair. The country’s highest court has questioned whether the law, approved in 2010, is constitutional, but hasn’t ruled on it yet.
The law was passed under a previous PASOK administration and allows those born to immigrant parents legally living in Greece for five years to be granted citizenship provided they had studied at a Greek school for at least six years.
A 2010 census found there were 762,191 immigrants in Greece, although the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, said analysts believe there are as many as 1.3 million.
A circular sent by Alternate Interior Minister Haralambos Athanassiou on November 30th to state agencies directing them to suspend processing of all citizenship applications by migrants and registration of new citizens at municipal offices has drawn fire.
Alex Sakellariou, a researcher at Panteion University in Athens and member of the Hellenic League for Human Rights, said the government is depriving immigrants of rights, including citizenship.
“The government can’t ask something like that before the publication of the court’s decision based only on speculation,” Sakellariou told SETimes, adding that Samaras “is trying to minimise his voters’ leak to Golden Dawn … he is playing one of his last cards, regarding the immigration issue.”
PASOK officials said the circular was unlawful and “undermines the government’s partnership.”
The justice ministry did not respond to a request for a comment, although Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis has publicly opposed plans to revoke the law, claiming that would boost the popularity of Golden Dawn.
Yvette Jarvis, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who has lived in Greece for many years and became the only African-American woman elected to the Athens City Council, worked on the law and said she was dismayed at the government’s plan.
“For them to deny basic human rights of legal status and citizenship literally leaves generations without viable futures,” Jarvis told SETimes.
Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, told SETimes that while making it difficult for immigrants to become citizens seems harsh, “the situation was left to get out of control and sometimes you have to take harsh measures.”
Nzeh Oluchukwu, 32, of Nigeria, said he came to Greece three years ago looking for work and is still looking, competing with nearly two million unemployed Greeks during a crushing economic crisis that has stoked resentment against immigrants.
“Migrants should have equal rights, including becoming a citizen, or it would be a loss for Greece,” he told SETimes.