Immigration: Greece opts for forced repatriation

Agathonissi (Greece): a group of migrants on board a coastguard vessel (AFP)
Agathonissi (Greece): a group of migrants on board a coastguard vessel (AFP)
26 October 2009 – I Kathimerini (Athens)

Greece, the point of entry for many an illegal immigrant to the EU, is also required to take back immigrants that other countries do not want to keep. However, pleading a lack of appropriate infrastructure, it has failed to honour this responsibility, and instead adopts a policy of forced repatriation, which rides roughshod over refugees' rights.

“Change your policies.” The European Union is adamant that member states must adopt a responsible approach to illegal immigration. But Greece is turning a deaf ear to the calls from Brussels and—instead of establishing a “voluntary repatriation” scheme, Greek authorities—are pushing ahead with deportations and forced repatriations.

Our country has become a trap for immigrants. Everyday hundreds of them wash up on our islands or cross the Albanian border. Then you have to take into account the illegal immigrants sent back from other EU countries: Community law (viz. the Dublin II Regulation) allows northern European countries to send intercepted immigrants back to their first point of entry into the EU, and in practice, this often means "to Greece."

Expulsion and forced repatriation have been Athens’ only response to the problem—and this is in marked contrast to the policies adopted elsewhere in the EU, which, according to the latest reports published in December 2008, emphasize voluntary repatriation. A report recently published by our Interior Ministry notes Greece has yet to establish any such mechanism: in fact the concepts of voluntary or (even financially) assisted departure don’t even exist in Greek legislation! Needless to say, if we are to implement a fair and efficient repatriation policy, we will need a “fair and efficient asylum system,” which complies with the provisions of the “Return Directive.” Our country does not have one, and that is why we are increasingly criticized by the international community.

"Voluntary return under pressure"

The directive, which member states are supposed to implement by December 2010, stipulates that, before they are sent away, migrants lacking the requisite resources must be provided with free legal aid to help them assert their right to remain in the EU, and that the cost of this assistance may be covered by European funds. This is a positive development. However, at the same time, the directive has been criticised for splitting up families with children and failing to adequately address the problem of unaccompanied minors. In terms of infrastructure, it calls for the creation of specialised detention facilities to accommodate migrants from the moment they accept their repatriation until they actually leave the country. Migrants from countries which may mistreat them on their return, must be provided with the necessary documents to prevent them from being arrested by the police.

Our country was the first to launch “voluntary return under pressure” schemes shortly after the publication of the directive and on the initiative of the secretariat of our ex-Ministry of Public Order. These “voluntary return under pressure ” schemes target individuals whose temporary protection is expiring, because their applications for asylum have been refused, or because they have been issued an administrative expulsion order.

80% of deportees are Albanians

Not long ago, they used to fly nearly three hundred Afghans back to Afghanistan. Like a great many of their compatriots, the Afghans had been trapped in Greece because their fingerprints had been registered here. In other words, had they succeeded in reaching any other European country, they would have been returned to Greece anyway. An employee of the Afghan embassy in Brussels was sent to the central police station in Athens to convince them to go back to Afghanistan.

The new Socialist government is pursuing the selfsame policy. The Ministry of Public Order has now been dubbed the “Ministry of Civil Protection,” and the minister has announced that some 1200 immigrants will be leaving the country within a month thanks to European aid. To wit: the ministry received roughly €17 million from the European Return Fund to cover the cost of expulsion and return, and we have assurances that another cash injection is in the offing. The programmes solely cover the removal and repatriation of migrants hailing from Asia, particularly southern Asia (i.e. either Pakistan or Afghanistan). Here again, Greece is not playing by the rules: the Interior Ministry report points out that 80% of the deportees are in fact Albanian! At the same time, less than 1% of “Asians” arriving via Turkey are sent back in view of the difficult situation that obtains between our two countries. In 2009 Turkey only accepted 108 out of 11,309 requests for repatriation. In a word, Greece still has a long way to go to establish an immigration policy that is worthy of a modern democracy.

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