For most of its contemporary history, Greece was a migrant sending country… The geopolitical changes of 1989, quickly converted the country into a host of mainly undocumented immigrants from Southeast Europe, Central-Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and later from South Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa…
The breakout of the Greek economic crisis in 2010 and the subsequent measures of severe austerity dramatically altered the conditions throughout the country and unavoidably deeply impacted the migration landscape… Data from the Ministry of Interior database, on valid stay permits, put these at 440,118 (on 31 December 2012), the lowest number in the last decade. The decline in valid stay permits suggests that some migrants may be returning to their countries of origin. However, it is difficult to know how many migrants have actually returned to their countries of origin and how many have stayed in Greece but have lost their legal stay status because they were unable to renew their stay permits once unemployed.
During the last decade and particularly since 2007 Greece has faced important immigration pressures from irregular migrants and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa, reaching Greece via Turkey… Greece is the first country of arrival in Europe for irregular migrants and asylum seekers that are often heading west and north. During the last 3-4 years, the relevant irregular migration and asylum seeking routes through Morocco and Spain, and through Libya and Italy (particularly for sub Saharan African countries) have been reduced to a trickle (for different reasons each, see Triandafyllidou and Maroukis 2012 for a detailed discussion and assessment). Thus, the Greek Turkish corridor has absorbed the brunt of these pressures. At the same time, the Greek asylum system had been non-functioning, leaving thousands of people trapped in Greece, without documents, without assistance and without the means to make a living. Even though the European legislation on asylum and notably the Dublin II regulation foresees that asylum applications should be processed in the first safe country of arrival, in this case Greece, several EU member states have stopped sending back asylum seekers to Greece in the last two years, following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on M.S.S. vs Belgium & Greece.
These two factors, the non-governance of asylum and irregular migration and the economic crisis, provoked a true humanitarian crisis in central Athens. Irregular migrants and asylum seekers that continued to cross the Greek Turkish borders, were often apprehended, detained for a period of time and then released with an expulsion decision. They moved on and concentrated in the large cities, particularly Athens, without however much hope either of finding a job and making a living, or having their asylum case processed and move on or indeed being regularised (as happened in the previous 15 years in Greece and other southern European countries) and integrate…
- Anna Triandafyllidou, ELIAMEP and EUI
With the cooperation of Angeliki Dimitriadi, Michaela Maroufof, Panos Hatziprokopiou, Eda Gemi, Marina Nikolova and Kleopatra Yousef (ELIAMEP)
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