Greece’s New Immigration Bill: Facilitating Entry, Ignoring Rights
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The new Immigration bill. What a fascinating piece of work. It’s like watching a magician perform a sleight-of-hand trick, distracting us with one hand while the other is doing something entirely different. In this case, the government is proposing to overhaul the legal framework governing immigration in Greece, while simultaneously erecting insurmountable barriers to the protection of the rights of immigrants who have been living in the country for years.
The bill is a masterclass in doublespeak. On the one hand, it seeks to facilitate the entry of “highly skilled” and “internally displaced” immigrants, in line with European guidelines. But on the other hand, it completely disregards the needs and concerns of the most exploited labor force in the country, those who have been living and working in Greece for years.
And let’s not forget the second generation of refugees and asylum seekers, who face an uncertain future under this bill. It’s as if the government is saying, “Sure, we’ll let you in, but don’t expect any protection or support from us once you’re here.”
The revised Migration Code underwent a public consultation period from the afternoon of Tuesday 07/03/2023 until the morning of Tuesday 14/03/2023. This new Code supersedes the initial Migration and Social Integration Code which was adopted in 2014. The Ministry of Migration and Asylum released a bill comprising roughly 200 pages, featuring 180 articles. Organisations and citizens were given four working days to examine and provide feedback on the proposed changes. The new Migration Code presents two distinct aspects:
What is the bill?
The proposed bill regarding the legalization of third-country nationals in Greece raises concerns. The only legal route for legalization is through the first legalization of third-country nationals for those who were previously asylum seekers. Until now, citizens of third countries who have been illegally residing in Greece for at least 7 consecutive years and could prove this with documents of a certain date could be legalized first, with a residence permit for exceptional reasons.
However, with the proposed bill, the prerequisite for obtaining this permit is that no negative decision on granting international protection has been issued. This proposed arrangement goes against the principle of equality. The time of stay based on a relative right of the applicant for international protection in the Country, does not count for completing the seven-year period.
Former asylum seekers who legally remained in the country with even a temporary title, such as that of the asylum seeker card and therefore worked legally, paid taxes, and were insured, face discrimination under this arrangement compared to a third-country citizen who stayed seven years illegally in the country.
Simply means, from 1 January 2024 it will no longer be possible to include the time someone has been in the asylum procedure in Greece to calculate the 7 year timeframe. This means that if someone arrived in Greece on 1 January 2017 and was in the asylum procedure for 2 years, the 2 years will not be counted when calculating the 7 year period.
The proposed arrangement fully reflects the Government’s anti-asylum policy that wants to fast-track asylum processes resulting in piles of rejections, fast-track deportations/re-admissions, and exclusion from the only possibility of first legalization that Greece’s immigration law has for those who manage to enter and not get violently pushback from the country’s borders.
This policy is complemented by the signing of bilateral agreements with Bangladesh and Pakistan, which allow citizens of these countries to work as seasonal workers in Greece for five years, provided they stay in the country for 9 months and leave for 3 months per year, without the right to permanent settlement or family reunification. After the five years, they have no right to stay and must leave the country immediately; otherwise, they are “immediately deported.”
An Uncertain Future
The bill stipulates that those who hold a residence permit as recognized refugees or beneficiaries of auxiliary protection must apply for renewal no later than one month before its expiry. However, the beneficiaries of international protection in Greece are faced with a hostile system that does not inform them appropriately and in a timely manner of their rights and obligations in a language they understand. The process of renewing a residence permit is multifaceted and bureaucratic, and services are understaffed compared to the volume of applications they need to handle. The addition of this extreme, disproportionate obligation to the beneficiaries tests at least the principle of user management.
It is unclear whether a delay in the above application leads to rejection and therefore revocation of an international protection regime. Moreover, such an arrangement appears to contradict the Geneva Convention and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Unfortunately, this dystopian interpretation seems to align with the changes to the residence permit for exceptional reasons. This route is now becoming particularly difficult due to the provision of non-inclusion of the space one stayed in the country as an asylum seeker in the calculation of seven years.
The proposed regulation aims to abolish the second-generation residence permit. Currently, children of undocumented immigrants who were born in Greece or have completed six Greek school classes before turning 23 are granted a residence permit, which legalizes their status in accordance with international agreements on the rights of the child, which prioritize their best interests in judicial and administrative decisions. However, the proposed arrangement would restrict this possibility by only granting a residence permit to those who are already legally residing in Greece. This would eliminate the opportunity to legalize immigrant children from low-income families who were unable to obtain a residence permit due to various reasons, despite being born and educated in Greece.
Reducing – or even completely abolishing – the rights of the most vulnerable group of immigrants, namely the undocumented immigrants who have been living in Greece for years waiting for their turn to complete the 7-year period, as well as the children who are growing up in the country and studying in a Greek school without proper documentation, and the refugees and asylum seekers who are already facing a difficult situation due to the increasing refugee flows and impoverishment, is nothing short of provocative. It is a sad reality but unfortunately not surprising.
Creating Crisis in the Crisis
Let us take a moment to reflect on the migration crisis in Greece. What we are seeing here is not just a challenge, but a full-blown crisis. And yet, despite the decline in arrivals compared to the peak in 2015, Greece continues to be a destination for a significant number of refugees and asylum seekers.
The response of the right-wing ruling party in Greece to this crisis has been nothing short of disastrous. Their policies are racist, heavy-handed, and cruel. We have seen violence and pushbacks at the borders, and the lack of support for those seeking asylum is simply unacceptable. Human rights organizations have documented countless cases of violence, abuse, and a lack of access to basic services and medical care in the refugee camps.
To make matters worse, the pandemic has created a new layer of crisis for refugees and asylum seekers. Overcrowding and inadequate sanitation in the camps are putting them at increased health risks. Calls for relocation have gone unanswered, leaving the majority of refugees and asylum seekers trapped in the camps with limited access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. And let us not forget the prolonged asylum procedures, lack of legal aid, and reduction in funding for the asylum system, all of which only serve to exacerbate this crisis.
We must recognize that creating a crisis within a crisis is unacceptable. We must demand that Greece and the international community take immediate action to address this situation. We must demand better treatment for refugees and asylum seekers, and we must work together to create a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their country of origin.
Story of a photo
The photo that I used for this report is the one that I toke in the last summer at the Eloanas refugee camp. This is the story of Waris Ali’s family, a tale all too common among those who have been forced to seek refuge in Greece. Waris Ali, a hardworking laborer from Pakistan, had built a home in Eleonas camp for himself and his loved ones. Yet, amidst the sweltering heat of last summer and under the weight of incessant government threats and psychological pressure, Waris Ali’s heart gave out one fateful night. His family cried out for an ambulance, but none arrived in time to save his precious life. You can read this full report on that days.
It is a tragedy that cannot be overstated, but it is also a tragedy that speaks to the broader inhumanity of the system that Waris Ali and his family found themselves trapped in. Though they had lived in Greece for many years, and their children were born in this country, the process of obtaining legal residency and citizenship remains almost impossible for them. And so, they were left to languish in a camp that was clearly not fit for human habitation, until tragedy struck.
This is not an isolated incident, but rather a reflection of the deep-seated problems within Greece’s-EU asylum policies.