“Illegal Immigrants”… Born in Greece (!)

By Andromaca Papaioannou

Τhe Greek Forum of Migrants in cooperation with the Refugees Integration Council of Athens Municipality, with the support of the Greek Branch of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR GREECE), on Thursday 20 of December 2012 organized a meeting entitled “Bridging the gap. From legal residence to citizenship”. The aim of the meeting was the presentation of a new integration model for the young people with migrant background, in other words, the second generation. The government was represented by Mr. H. Athanasiou, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

Mr. H. Athanasiou characterized not just migrants but… illegal immigrants (λαθρομετανάστες) (!), due to complete ignorance on the subject – as the most well-meaning of the attendees would say-,  the 2nd generation children who don’t have valid residence permits. Ignorance which is unacceptable, especially when someone holds such a public office.

Firstly, it is unthinkable for a Deputy Minister of Home Affairs to use the term “illegal migrant” in general. The particular term is offensive and degrading when referring to people. Objects can be Illegal, never people. People may be irregular or without documents, but never illegal. The term is inappropriate, let alone when speaking about people who were born in the country. The second generation children are not even migrants, let alone illegal migrants. They shouldn’t even chase after a residence permit in their 30s in the country where they were born.

What is even sadder is surely the fact that the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs ignores the procedure, the bureaucratic problems that exist, but mostly the (formal and essential) difference between residence permit and certificate. How could he then contribute efficiently to the solution of the problem when ignoring deeply its extent and nature?

Second generation children cannot submit their documents either for citizenship or for naturalization, not because they don’t want to but because the vast majority cannot. For a second generation child to be able to submit any application, he/she has to possess a valid residence permit. The moment a child submits their documents to issue residence permit, a certificate is granted to them; however with it he/she cannot submit application for citizenship or naturalization. When, after a long time, the residence permit is issued, it is very often already invalid, which means that not only he/she still cannot apply, but should do an application for renewal from the start. In other words, the law may give in theory the possibility to second generation children to submit their documents, in practice though the bureaucracy deprives it from them.

How a state perceives the meaning of “belonging” is reflected on the way this state grants citizenship. With the existing legislative framework, it is extremely difficult for children of foreign parents to obtain Greek citizenship, regardless of where they were born (with a parenthesis in the Law 3838/2010, which however was judged as unconstitutional by the Council of State and only the publication of the decision is pending for its substantial abolition). In other words, the Greek state doesn’t consider the second generation children as Greeks, let alone as potential citizens.

This matter concerns approximately 200,000 children who were born in Greece or came to Greece at a very young age. This concerns children who live in Greece, whose mother’s tongue is Greek, who attend Greek schools. This concerns young people who study and work in Greece. I wonder who has the right to judge how Greek those children are?

And there lies our basic difference. We are talking about individuals who should be equal citizens and you are talking about migrants and illegal migrants.