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Governance of migrant integration in Greece

Greece has decentralised power structures since the 2000s, and municipalities therefore play an increasingly active role in the social integration of migrant populations.

The recent refugee crisis has been a defining moment, and at the end of 2019, Greece still hosted over 186,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In addition to refugees, Greece has been a steady destination for labour migrants, coming mainly from Eastern European and Balkan countries since the 1990s.

The statistics in the chart above are based on Eurostat's Non-national population by group of citizenship, 1 January 2020, with TCNs counting 730,000 and representing 6.8% of Greece’s population. EU citizens make up just 1.6%.

At the end of 2019, Greece still hosted over 186,000 refugees and asylum-seekers

On 1 January 2017, 579,736 TCNs were legally residing in Greece, with the top 3 countries of origin being Albania, Ukraine and Georgia. Out of those TCNs, 15,919 had valid temporary resident permits and 563,817 were permanent residents. In 2016, out of 44,072 permits issued for the first time, 54% were for family reunification, 4.8% for economic activities and 2% for studies. In addition to this foreign population, the country also counted over 140,000 nationals with a third-country background, 25,686 of whom were naturalised in 2016.

Integration strategy

To foster the inclusion of migrants, Greece set up its first National Strategy for the Integration of Third Country Nationals in 2013. The strategy included specific measures and actions to be implemented in areas as diverse as service provision, introductory courses, employment, health, housing, political participation, anti-discrimination and intercultural dialogue, but the most emphasis was put on training and skills development for both TCNs and public employees dealing with migrant issues.

In January 2019, the government presented for public consultation a proposal for a new strategy, resulting in the July 2019 National Integration Strategy. The new strategy contains provisions regarding education, labour market integration, racism and xenophobia, among others.

In addition to these overarching strategies, the government also drafted a policy paper providing for educational actions for refugee children in 2016. 

Integration programme

Migrants have access to services aiming at social integration. Local and national authorities (including Ministry of Education, Research & Religious Affairs), as well as NGOs, provide language courses to newcomers, but Greece does not have a standard integration programme for third-country nationals.

In July 2019, the government introduced the Hellenic Integration Support for Beneficiaries of International Protection (HELIOS), a program promoting integration in various fields, also providing employability support for beneficiaries of international protection. The program is implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Greece. Nevertheless, the provisions for a limited number of participants reveal the fragmented character of the planning. From July 2019 to November 2020, over 21,000 beneficiaries had been enrolled in the HELIOS program, out of more than 80,000 recognized refugees residing in Greece. Read feedback from the HELIOS beneficiaries.

Still, the 2019 integration strategy identifies the promotion of integration in the education system, labour market integration and access to public services, among others, as important components of the integration of immigrants and beneficiaries of international protection.

Evaluation

No official assessment of the integration strategy has been done so far. However, all the actions and projects under the European Integration Fund (EIF) for the 2007-2013 period and implemented until June 2015 were evaluated with specific quantitative and qualitative indicators,  included in every annual programme.

In addition, the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs conducted an assessment of the Integration Project for Refugee Children in Education (March 2016 to April 2017). The assessment contained proposals for the 2017-2018 school year, putting more emphasis on sport, art and technology. It further introduced a system of certification to monitor the progress of refugee children and strategies to include parents in the school life.

Finally, the EU's Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) published a report on the social inclusion and participation of migrants and their descendants in Greek society.

The 2020 Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) evaluates that the country still does not ensure migrants' access to truly equal opportunities: "Greece only goes halfway to guarantee basic rights and long-term protection for immigrants, while support for equal opportunities is weak, especially compared to countries with a comprehensive approach".

Legislation

Law on foreigners

The law of 1991 contains provisions on the stay and work of foreigners, as well as on the procedure for the recognition of refugees. In 2005, a law on the entry, residence and social integration of TCNs was introduced.

The latter was reformed in 2014 with the Immigration and Social Integration Code, introducing changes in the field of residence permits, family reunification and access to the labour market. It grants, for example, migrants with 10+ years of residence permits - or indefinite residence - rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. In 2015, the EU directives 2011/98 and 2014/36 were transposed into the Greek legislation.

The current legal framework poses serious obstacles to asylum seekers’ access to the labor market compared with what was defined in the past. Law 4636/2019 was one of the first bills passed by the newly elected government in November 2019. Article 53 introduces a 6-month time limit before access to the labor market is allowed for asylum seekers. The same law however introduced no changes for refugees and subsidiary protection beneficiaries.

Asylum law

The law of 2011 is the first piece of legislation specifically targeting refugees and applicants of international protection in Greece. It established asylum services. Five years later, with the adoption of Law 4375/2016, the asylum procedure underwent substantial changes, including the establishment of a speedier recognition procedure and automatic access to employment for holders of an asylum card.

Integration law

Greece does not have a self-standing integration legislation, apart from the articles 128 and 129 of the Immigration & Social Integration Code.

Citizenship law

The first Greek Citizenship Code was adopted in 2004. Since then, 2 modifications were made in 2010 and 2015. The latest amendment was made in 2015 to include, among other additions, the conditions under which a child of migrants born in Greece may acquire Greek citizenship, and the creation of a naturalisation board at the interior ministry.

Anti-discrimination

Greece adopted its first legislation to punish acts or actions of racial discrimination in 1979. The 2014 Law, in addition, combats certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia.

On the local level, Article 75 of the 2006 Code of Communes and Municipalities established certain competencies for municipalities regarding the integration of migrants. The active involvement of large cities and towns with a high concentration of migrant populations has since drastically increased. Municipalities provide temporary accommodation, social assistance, Greek language courses, vocational training and health services. Most of these activities are financed with EU funding instruments.

Local governmental structures were further re-organised in 2010 with the Kallikratis Programme. As a result, an important part of the everyday implementation of the integration policy has been transferred to the new Decentralised Administration Authorities. The reform reinforced the role of municipalities and established that these decentralised structures will issue residence permits through 55 one-stop-shops spread across the territory.

Following the July 2019 elections, the previous Ministry for Migration Policy, which was the main governmental body responsible for issues related to migration integration, was replaced by a new Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

The State Agency for the Unemployed (OAED) also carries out activities meant to integrate TCNs into the labour market. It offers targeted training and programmes to encourage the hiring of migrants. Since February 2018, migrants are allowed to register as unemployed, which in turn provides a ground for permanent residence in Greece. OAED also participated in the IReFSoS programme enabling target groups to quickly enter the labor market; the EU-funded programme however ended in 2019.

The Migrant Integration Councils, or Symvoulia Entaksis Metanaston, are consultative bodies spread across all 325 municipalities.

Their members are elected municipal officers, as well as representatives of migrant communities and organisations. According to Law 3852/2010 which established the councils, the structures are responsible for helping local authorities acquire knowledge on problems encountered by the migrant population residing within their municipality in relation to integration. The councils may propose actions such as counseling services, public events, as well as the promotion of social cohesion. They also assist migrants in accessing local services and involve them in local structures and the policy-making processes.

There is no consultative body on integration at the national level. However, in 2016, the General Secretariat of Migration Policy of the interior ministry created a National Registry of non-governmental organisations active in the field of migration, international protection and social integration.

Funding

EU funds

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. In addition, national and private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.

The information below will be updated once the 2021-2027 national programmes under the EU funds become available.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Greece

  • Details: The national allocation for Greece under AMIF for 2014-2020 is €328,265,644. The Greek AMIF programme outlines integration priorities such as language education, support in accessing the labour market, the promotion of interculturalism, housing for vulnerable groups, a guardianship system for unaccompanied minors, as well as the establishment of integration structures with a wide range of services.
  • National managing authority: The national managing authority for AMIF in Greece is the Special Agency for Coordination and Program Management of AMIF and ISF of the Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism.

European Social Fund (ESF) in Greece

  • Details: Funds from the ESF in Greece are divided among 17 different operational programmes, most of which regional. The operational programme Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning Operational Programme provides over €2 billion of ESF funding (out of a total package of around €3.3 billion) to increase employment and decrease the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
  • National managing authority: The managing authorities for ESF in Greece can be found on the pages of the respective operational programmes. Further information about the ESF in Greece can be found on a dedicated website

Other EU funds for integration available in Greece

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

National managing authorities:

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: The ERDF in Greece is coordinated through various special and regional managing authorities.

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: Greek Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities

National managing authority: Special Management Service of the Rural Development Programme

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

National managing authority: Special Service for Coordination of Fisheries and Seas; EMFF supports coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finances projects that create jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts

Other funds

Other public funding in Greece

Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism

Private funding in Greece

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