Mr. Daniel Esdras is the Director of the International Organization for Migration Office in Athens, Greece. Being in charge of this position for almost 1o years, and having accumulated wide experience in war-affected zones, such as Kosovo, Chechnya, and Sarajevo amongst others, Mr. Esdras firmly reckons that Greece during the last years is “a state in humanitarian crisis“.
What is going on with racism in Greece?
Racism reigns in Greece, regardless of political ideologies or cultural incentives. I personally believe that we are living one of the most crucial periods in the history of the Greek state, and racism is also part of it. It is difficult to cope with it, as racism has taken wide dimensions.Therefore, we have many immigrants requesting repatriation as conditions are getting even harsher here.
What is the IOM Office in Athens is dealing with?
We are solely and deeply involved in the repatriation program of refugees and immigrants as it is one of the most pending issues in lack of shelters, public or private, or any kind of protection. We believe that this program gives all participants the possibility to repatriate in dignity and safety, along with a stipend for the first days of adjustment that we provide, which is equally vital. Nonetheless, we have some limits in our funding policy, and it is thus impossible to satifsy each and every applicant.
Where the funding comes from?
The funding of the program basically stems from the European Union Return Fund, and in smaller portion from the Greek state. In addition to that, we receive grants from member-states of the European Economy Area (i.e. EEA) such as Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland, along with grants received from the United Kingdom’s Border Agency, which is deeply involved in such programs.
The European Union Return Fund is runnning in all EU member-states, but as you can imagine Greece, due to its geographical position and the current economic conditions, is in need of additional funding; this is the major reason why we are always seeking for new partnerships, along with the existing ones, in order to better correspond to our program.
What about the repatriation program? How this process functions?
The applicant comes directly to our office -with 9 out of 10 applicants lacking official papers or legal status. We afterwards prepare all necessary documents and we come into contact with their embassies, which in their parts are rensponsible for preparing the flight back and all necessary travel requirements. In other words, we fulfill the gap left within the police, the local authorities and the embassies.
I have to stress out here that any applicant is eligible for the repatriation program after giving us full details of its identity. We respect all regulations included in the Human Rights Declaration Chart dealing with the right of any individual to retun back to its homeland, and this is what we endeavor to ensure. From a humanitarian perspective, we also believe that we own to these people; we own to guarantee their safe return, as almost all of them come to our office with no papers, no status, and it is evident that in case something occurs, they are completely deserted and nobody will quest them. Simply because they do not exist officially.
How long the repatriation process takes?
Once they receive their identity card from us, they are legally registered to IOM as eligibles for repatriation. The process of repatriation normally takes from two weeks to one month as it depends to the following factors: a. the identification process from the respective embassy, b. the fingerprints process from the Foreigners Office, c. the preparation of the flight.
What is the landscape of trafficking?
Trafficking, both labour and sex, is one of the top agendas we are coping with in the last twenty years. But unfortunately, due to the current conditions in Greece, it is no more a priority. Undoubtedly, this does not mean that trafficking has been affronted efficiently, but in the contrary we have growing fears over both labour and sex trafficking. The problem now is even more complicated, as the economic meltdown has completely mingled the traditional routes of trafficking.
For instance, a couple of days ago I had to deal with a dozen of Romanians being entangled in labour trafficking. It is astonishing that a European country, such as Romania, which is supposedly developed and modernized, to be faced with such issues that were commonly known and confronted in countries of the Third World. In other words, the crisis has horizontally affected any possible region, any individual, man or woman. And this is something we cannot manage easily.
What about the misinformation immigrants send back to their relatives and friends concerning the conditions they find in the new land?
This is a critical problem in general. Let me remind you that this was always the practice of every migration flow, and especially of those being forced to migrate for economic reasons. This was also the practice of Greek immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s. They used to work in low-income occupations in their majority or doing relevant jobs with no great expectations, but when they were coming back to their homeland and talking about their life abroad, they were presenting a completely different image in order to cater the ears of their relatives.
Nevertheless, nowadays the most crucial side-effect of this misinformation is the fact that through these channels immigrants facilitate the job and role of the smugglers as the latters have to deal with more and more immigrants, all of them being illusively misinformed.
Do you have any future plans and programs?
After long-lasting discussions and deliberations with both the Greek authorities and the relevant bodies in the European Union, we are determined to prepare and launch a prevention campaign being literally based on a certain audiovisual material that would have been collected and dealt with the real conditions immigrants face in their new land. The fundamental aspects of this program will have to do with the entire “journey” immigrants are forced to get by, such as the dangers of transport and the crossing of the borders, the conditions they find afterwards, the hardship of life, the joblessness or the racism that an immigrant is encountered with in daily basis.
This program necessitates the mutual agreement of every country the immigrant is coming from (e.g. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh), which I personally believe is a really tough process as it is apparent that the truth is not always welcome. This plan is expected to be a tailor-made path for both the countries of origin and the countries of reception (e.g. Greece, Italy).
In addition to that, I firmly believe that along with this prevention program it is of paramount importance to organize, here in Greece, a wide awareness campaign against racism. Both the EU and Greece have to support such an initiative as this issue is more immediate now than ever.
Do you have a clear image of the number of immigrants actually being in Greece?
We have a clear image of the legal immigrants, which are scaled around 600,000, but we have no certain data in our disposition regarding the illegal ones. The major issue here is that there is no monitoring mechanism of recording all these flows of illegal immigrants in Greece. And to a certain extent, this is normal when comparing to the number of immigrants crossing the borders every single day.
In this respect, the first and foremost question that someone should ask himself is why an immigrant decides to migrate. To my experience, apart from those ones seeking asylum, there is no immigrant willing to leave his country when economic conditions permit it to stay. Therefore, what is needed is a stong re-integration program, like the one we strive to promote and implement, when someone decides to return back. To the moment, the re-intergation program we are running applies only to a small part of all immigrants being eligible to return to their homeland due to lack of considerable funding.
What is your opinion about immigration? Are there limits or a certain and global plan to properly address this issue?
I personally believe that immigration will never stop. It had always been the case and it will still be. But the problem is that migration has to stop being like that, to stop smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of all these desperate people. We need programs that will endeavor to regulate migration effectively and to ameliorate state stuctures and capacity of receiving and treating immigrants.
But let me put it this way: the struggle of migration is also included in the general discussion of the asylum policy in the European Union. We do not have to treat these issues in a separate context. The Doublin II Treaty has to be revised so that it can start providing more flexible solutions for asylum applicants. I further reckon that the deficiencies of this Treaty will be more eloquent now that the crisis in Syria will definitely push Syrian immigrants to seek asylum in the European South, and therefore, press all countries of the region to deal with it. Asylum has to be accompanied with additional inclusive policies that combine the provision of asylum along with job seeking and social solidarity programs.Dimitris Rapidis