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Towards a coherent immigration policy

  • By Rena Dourou *|
  • Published in “Avgi” daily, 06.09.2015

The migrant/refugee issue has now spread far beyond the Greek borders and has been targeted as immediate priority in the European agenda, with the EU’s leadership trying to respond in a delayed, superficial way, without really tackling the root of the problem. Such a delay is all the more inexcusable since, as early as 2008, the “European Pact on Immigration and Asylum” underlined the contribution of international migration to the economy and the demography of the old continent: “International migration can be an opportunity, as it is a factor of human and economic exchange”, and “can contribute decisively to the economic growth of the European Union and of those Member States which need migrants due to the state in their labour markets or their demography”. In this context, a reminder by the President of the Republic, Mr Prokopis Pavlopoulos, requesting the activation of the Pact’s four pillars, was therefore most opportune in these times of setbacks on the European policy on this issue.

However, such an imbecilityif not inefficiency -  on the part of Europe is not to exempt our country from the responsibility for a coherent, serious, consistent policy towards a problem which had long been requesting caution, yet falling on deaf ears. Because, obviously, the governments of Nea Dimokratia and PASOK had consciously chosen the path of dangerous inefficiency: i.e. impression-mongering, electioneering, pursuing a policy of “camps”, “walls”, and sweep operations as per “Xenios Dias”. The results are well known: the rise of Right-Wing Extremism, while more and more refugees/migrants are being caught in the nets of traffickers. Condemning policies such as those stipulated in the Dublin II and Dublin III Regulations is not sufficient, there is a need for urgent action at national level, in order for Athens to be able to assert, at European level, funding for an immigration policy in accordance with the principles of humanity and safety, on the basis of international law. Tools are already available (for example law 3907/2011 incorporating a European Directive), but need to be activated. Immediately. Through cooperation between central government and local government levels, without unproductive competition or petty objectives. The question is too serious to be used for self-promotional strategies or partisan ends. The Region of Attica, in the case of the Syrian refugees both in November — December 2014 and now responded swiftly to the need to address the growing refugee flows, in the immigrant reception centre in Votanikos.

Therefore, the extent of the issue calls for collective action and synergies between institutions, with particular emphasis on the effectiveness of the intervention.

To this end, the initiative taken by the Chairman of the Associations of the Regions of Greece (ENPE), Mr Agorastos, for an extraordinary meeting last Thursday in Mytilini on the management of migration and refugee flows is indeed quite positive. 

This type of management requires immediate actions.

First action: Counting / registering immigrants / refugees – a necessary action in order to initiate the appropriate solutions in the face of requests for asylum / the provision of travel documents, etc. This is also a much needed action in order to design a comprehensive policy for the inclusion of immigrants / refugees, which will be based on a national employment plan and the requirements of the economy. Jean-Christophe Dumont, Head of the International Migration Division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stresses that Immigrants contribute more in tax and social contributions than they get in individual benefits.

In fact, counting can be done immediately since there is already the relative legal framework - Law 3907/2011, which is based on the functioning of Reception Centres, not camps, in the country’s entry gates in order for the counting to be carried out there. According to Article 7 of this Law, the personal data of migrants / refugees are recorded in these Centres, while, according to Article 9, professional staff judge who will be returned.

At the same time, asylum seekers can be distinguished in these Centres (Article 11) through expeditious procedures. At this point, it would be interesting to mention the procedures being implemented by the Republic of Cyprus, which has a comprehensive Independent Asylum Agency, staffed with qualified, professional personnel, especially social workers who conduct interviews. This counting / registering process safeguards the rights of immigrants / refugees providing them with a special status of suspended return and introducing them in a case management phase.

Second action: In order to fully implement the 3907/ 2011 Law, a thorough inspection by the Greek authorities, in cooperation with the EU and its Agencies, should be carried out in cities that experience large inflows of immigrants, on the islands and in major cities. In this way, slave trading networks will be smashed, while criminal and / or jihadist elements, which constitute a serious threat to the cohesion of any society, will be isolated.

Third Action: The return process to “secure” countries, that is countries that are not in a state of emergency (i.e., civil war), must be consolidated with the assistance of all Greek Public Agencies. This action requires the involvement of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in particular, and the assistance and expertise of the EU, in order to ensure that the required consultation / cooperation with the countries of origin / return can be achieved.

Fourth Action: Strengthening the Municipalities’ Immigrant Inclusion Councils which have been established according to the "Kallikrates" Law.

The goal is to immediately ease the current tensions on the islands and finally provide Greece with a simple, effective, fast and reliable framework for addressing the soaring migration / refugee flows. A framework that will benefit both Greece and the uprooted people who seek and are entitled to live a decent life.

* Rena Dourou is Regional Governor of Attica.

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