Dimitris Rapidis

The immigration process is divided into three plus (+) one steps: Reception, accommodation / legalization, and the right to return. There is additionally a fourth step that includes integration –i.e. social, labor, political integration – but we are far behind this condition, especially in Greece. In an ideal context, the state receives newcomers and the relevant authorities decide whether the immigrant is granted with legalization or he/she is eligible to return back in due time.

But literally the process between reception, whether this is authorized or not, and legalization, possibly after many months spent in detention centres, is entrenched with grey zones.

The shortage in reception centres –i.e. public, private or led by NGOs- the institutional flaws towards the process of legalization, the lack of resources, the possible expel, create a uncontrollable and overwhelming wave of illegal immigrants that live under the constant threat of being caught. In this respect, illegal immigrants cannot leave the country of reception unless they return back to their homeland, they are not covered or protected by NGOs, unless they belong to vulnerable groups, and they have no right whatsoever.

This very group of illegal immigrants needs to be further explored. In this respect, how many permits the Greek state has issued so far? In how many asylum-seekers and refugees? In addition, we also need to explore quantitative figures regarding all these immigrants that have lost their legal right to shelter and accommodation due to the lack of insurance coverage. How many have been kept illegally for more than 22 months in detention centres, without being expelled, in the context of Xenios Zeus operation? How the Greek state can deal with all these people that have no access to health treatment and care? How all these bureaucratic burdens impede the proper function of institutions, the economy, and what effect they have on criminality?

Furthermore, there is an imminent need for categorizing all these groups of immigrants by nationality, age, previous criminal convictions, skills and a number of other features that are of paramount importance so that both authorities and the organizations involved can efficiently operate and act. In this respect, we also need to look upon possible bilateral and flexible agreements between the recipient state and the relevant diplomatic missions that could be beneficial for the immigrants themselves, such as the granting of seasonal permits that could eventually decrease the pace of massive inflows and outflows. Needless to point out that such intermediate policies and measures could be avoided should the current institutional framework of the European Union (EU) with regards to Dublin Regulations be further balanced and better structured to allocate funds and improve burden-sharing in all EU28.

The Greek and EU leadership should therefore put more emphasis on the fact that immigrants, whether illegal or not, are actually living and influencing local societies, both negatively and positively. The case of Syrian refugees for instance is the most oft-cited and eloquent in that sense, as Greece, being the major gateway in the EU, has received so far thousands of applications from asylum-seekers. A great deal of these applicants are actually granted with asylum protection, but cannot leave for another member-state in the quest of better living conditions and prospects.

From a similar prism, it is estimated that thousands of immigrants are forced to leave Greece for other adjacent countries outside the EU, such as Albania in the northern borders, in order to pass into a transitional phase where they can apply again for legalization or asylum in another EU member-state, or at least find a way out. Nonetheless, the Dublin Regulations impede a second application to another EU member-state, a fact that brings in the discussion another issue: that of addressing a major loophole with regards to the free transition of an immigrant from one EU member-state to another.

Coming now to the conditions in the detention centres, many Greek MEPs in Brussels have stressed out the violence exerted by the authorities and the humiliation immigrants have to withstand. There are no independent bodies and mechanisms that could monitor and evaluate the living conditions of the immigrants in daily basis, and the majority of reports stemming from domestic and international NGOs condemn the methods used by the police and the security forces. Accordingly, the number of detention centres does not suffice to accommodate the number of immigrants, their human needs, their right to food, legal counseling, and healthcare.

In the meantime, the Greek Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection lacks communication efficiency to deal with the growing demand of the Greek and European society to get properly informed about the issues at stake. Despite the constant pressures from organizations involved in this field, the leadership of the Ministry ignores the right of free documentation and access to information, whether this information deals with public awareness, lack of funding, or any other related policy that could re-itinerate the debate towards a more prolific exchange of ideas, better practices and broader cooperation.

In this direction, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Mr Avramopoulos could press more and coordinate for broader actions, including all these NGOs and think-tanks that deal with migration policies, in order to address all threats and challenges with the most inclusive and goal-oriented approach.

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