Helena Smith, Guardian (Manchester), October 21, 2009
A generation of migrant children who were born and raised in Greece but never officially recognised will be granted Greek citizenship, the newly elected socialist government has announced.
The step–part of a wide-ranging overhaul of immigration policies long condemned by international organisations–could affect up to 200,000 children who though Greek in everything but name have never been afforded nationality.
“This country can no longer go on being a hell for migrants,” said Michalis Chrysochoidis, the minister in charge of the newly created citizens’ protection ministry. Human rights activists say the measure will overturn a “surreal” situation where children whose immigrant parents have legally settled in Greece are treated as “aliens” with no rights at all.
“Absurd is too light a word to describe the lot of these kids,” said Petros Papaconstantinou, a prominent anti-racism spokesman. “Even if born in Greece, even if they attend Greek schools and speak only Greek, which invariably is the case, on paper they don’t exist at all.”
Without official documentation the children were often subject to abuse, arrest and deportation at the age of 18, he said. “There are children whose parents are from Africa, Asia and countries like Albania who are enrolled at schools across Greece but who have no papers whatsoever. In Europe this is unique.”
Under the reforms, unaccompanied children held in overcrowded detention centres will also be released. In recent months there have been a series of rebellions in migrant camps on Lesbos and other Aegean islands, often led by minors protesting against poor living conditions.
While other parts of Europe have seen a decline in illegal immigration, Greece has experienced a 50% surge, with its easternmost islands bearing the brunt of the influx. Most of the migrants, who cross over from Turkey, are from Asia, Africa and countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. “Greece remains the main entry point for illegal immigrants into Europe,” said Gil Arias Fernandez, the deputy director of Frontex, the EU border agency.
While Turkey has been criticised for failing to stop the flow, Greece has also been denounced for its “inhuman” handling of migrants. Human rights groups accused the former conservative government of illegally expelling thousands across the border into Turkey.
Following the death of a Pakistani immigrant in police custody in Athens last week, the socialists also plan to integrate immigrants into the police and place psychologists at stations nationwide.