Greece: Fight back against the new racist law

Right-wing government proposes draconian new immigration law

Saturday 2nd of April is the date chosen by several antiracist and immigrant organizations across Europe to hold demonstrations and rallies in different European cities against Fortress Europe.

In Athens, a rally is going to take place on the same day and a demonstration to the parliament will follow. The Greek section of CWI and YRE, which managed during the last years to build a strong base amongst immigrants in Greece, campaigned both amongst immigrants and Greeks to ensure the success of this demonstration. One extra reason for that is the new racist law for immigrants Nea Dimokratia government is forwarding to the parliament this month. Following the experience of all other Greek governments during the last 15 years, Nea Dimokratia is trying to put together racism, discrimination, state control, unspeakable requirements, trying to convince Greek society about their “strong will” to put an end to the “mess” immigrants “provoke”.

Here is the editorial of the last issue of Socialist Immigrants’ Voice, magazine of immigrant members of the Greek organization. We will have more reports about the demonstration and our contingent, and of course about all the activities against the new racist bill.

Vicious anti-immigrant law

Barely a year after his election, the new Prime Minister of Nea Dimokratia, K. Karamanlis decided to approach the issue of legalisation of immigrants and refugees in Greece in a manner far worse than any previous government.

The first step was taken with refugees, with the majority of asylum papers being revoked and replaced by refugee transfer to various detention camps around Greece. Following this, the Greek government announced the draft of a new immigration law that intends to solve “the problem” in a most brutal fashion. A draft 83 pages long filled with ideas on how to remove immigrants from the legalisation procedure, with irrational demands and red-tape barriers to discourage even the most determined.

To begin with, the new law disqualifies any immigrant that entered Greece illegally, therefore 500 000 immigrants are not just left out of the legalization process, but they face immediate danger of deportation. Only those that entered the country through passport and immigration control with a visa are allowed to apply for a permit (if they will get it in the end is a whole different ball game).

For immigrants that want to obtain a five-year or more residence permit they will be examined by a 5-member committee, which will have to approve the house that they live in, examine them in their knowledge of the Greek language, history and culture. According to the proposed law, immigrants will also be examined for their personality, their moral standing and strong character. How someone can be judged on these aspects and by whom one can only speculate, since what is good and moral for one person may be quite the opposite for another.

Contrary to the EU directive that obliges countries to issue permits until January 2006 for all those who live for the past 5 years, the Greek government begins counting residential status from 2006 onwards. This means that immigrants will be kept in the dark for the next five years and the first 5 year permits will be issued in 2011.

At the same time any permit issued will be for a specific purpose and will be revoked if that purpose ceases to apply. Someone receiving a permit for studies will not be allowed to work in Greece and vice-versa.

Also the nature of work will be very specific – a construction worker will not have the opportunity to become self-employed even if he manages to gather the money needed, nor will an artist be able to work in a different field, even for a brief period in order to make ends meet.

Anyone serving immigrants, from hotels and services to doctors in hospitals and clinics are required by the new law to immediately report them to the police. The immigrants themselves must report every aspect of their lives to their district authorities (change of address, marital status, birth of children etc.).

The immigrant will have to prove next that he will have an annual income of no less than 9.000 euro, plus 20% extra if his/her spouse will be joining him, plus 15% for each child he has. In short a married immigrant with 2 children will have to declare an annual income of €13 500 euro.

For those that want to create their own business in Greece things are even worse. In order to apply for a visa they need to have established beforehand a bank account with a deposit of €60.000 euro. How someone who wishes to leave his country because of poverty can gather this amount is something that of course this law does not specify.

According to the proposed law the permits will be issued before an immigrant enters the country. To get the permit however the immigrant must have found a job before through the Greek embassy in his country. As you can understand anyone coming from a country without a Greek embassy (i.e. Afghanistan) will be disqualified. The way that the embassies will act like job agents is even more preposterous. Every employer in Greece that wants people to work for him will have to submit employment positions to his local OAED (the Greek employment service of the Ministry for Labor) branch. OAED will then forward these jobs to the Ministry of Interior to be approved, then posted in the embassies. The immigrant will then have to apply for the job, his application will be sent back to the Ministry of Interior, from there to the Ministry of Labor and then the employer. If the job has not been taken in the meantime, the employer will then approve, the approval being sent back through the same channels to the embassy to issue a visa. And all this bureaucracy is just the beginning.

In general, the proposed law can only be described as absurd, with the only intention of making every immigrant in this country illegal. The majority of Greek workers, let alone someone that is fleeing his country because of war, famine and poverty cannot meet the standards it sets. Of course the government (and its opposition who have not said a word on the subject) knows this quite well. Most people may well perceive this as an effort to drive immigrants out of the country.

The truth is that more than 1,000,000 immigrants living in Greece cannot just be kicked out, nor does anyone (including the government) wish so.

Immigrants in Greece are become more active. They are beginning to be more political, to join unions, and are increasingly active in strike actions, demonstrations etc. This, of course, is a thorn in the government’s side because immigrants are needed for cheap labour. This is easy to accomplish if they are constantly kept on the defensive, without rights, always on the run from police harassment but at the same time always paying taxes, insurance, high application fees. It also helps to keep them away from fraternizing with Greek workers, so that the government will be able to attack them next. Breeding hatred and racism has always been a favourite tool by the wealthy to divide and conquer. That is why both PASOK and Nea Dimokratia have enforced these racist policies all these past years.

The brutality of this law shows however that our struggles have been in the right direction. Our analysis has shown over the years that the capitalists will seek to exploit workers to the last drop. As time goes by, the challenges that capitalism creates will be faced by a united workers’ movement struggling for a better, socialist world, without war, hunger, racism and poverty. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us. But it is the only road, for the sake of future generations and us.

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April 2005
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