Immigration Reform: The Xenophobic Crisis in Greece

Illegal immigrants are tearing apart the social fabric of Greek society. They’ve been blamed for the spike in crimes and the cause of Greece’s economic woes. At least this is the narrative that's repeated by the far-right and accepted by most Greeks.  

With no end in sight of the economic crisis and punishing austerity measures, Greeks are feeling the squeeze. This week’s meeting with Germany and France to discuss the terms for the third round of bailouts will without a doubt renew class tensions between locals and immigrants.  

At the same time, Golden Dawn, a far-right political group notorious for its hateful and xenophobic rhetoric, has blamed illegal immigrants. Their success in winning 18 seats in June’s parliamentary elections demonstrates at least some level of their views resonating with the masses. This group creates a hostile environment complete with its swastika-like logo and ran on the platform slogan, “Greece for Greeks.” There has been some demonstrations against Golden Dawn, but the scapegoating of illegal immigrants have been somewhat accepted by the masses.

Illegal immigrants make up 10% of the Greek population, and locals view this problem as a scourge. Efforts are being made to demonstrate that Greece is serious about deporting illegal immigrants and tightening its borders.  

Several human-rights NGO’s have denounced Greece for violating international law in its mass raids of immigrants without making any efforts to check the legal status of the migrants. Furthermore, it was reported on Saturday that Greek police were accused of dumping hundreds of illegal immigrants in the middle of the night in neighboring Macedonia. Locals have grown weary of immigrants and multi-culturalism in general. Certainly the economy has played a part. In a Human Rights Watch report, an Athens resident expressed, “I was never a racist but I’ve become one. Why can’t we send them all home?”  

Yet illegal immigrants without papers, work, or a place to live are finding their stay in Greece to be very unwelcoming. In past five-months, it's been estimated that 500 people were the victims of racially-motivated attacks. The typical m.o. of these attacks are similar in nature: they typically occur late at night, involving a gang of thugs, wielding weapons such as sticks, iron bars and wooden bats. Their intention is to induce fear in their victims. Instances of attacks at home by Golden Dawn members have been reported in the media. Keep in mind that this is in the same network of white supremacist groups that Wisconsin shooter Sikh shooter Wade Michael Page was a member of.

In August duirng Operation Xenios Zeus (ironically, the god of hospitality), approximately 6,000 migrants were rounded up and detained in Athens resulting in 1,500 people being deported for illegal entry. It seemed the only criteria for being detained was being guilty of having a dark complexion or looking "foreign." The "success" of this event prompted officials to plan similar raids to other cities in Greece. Six detention centers are already in the works to house the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants.

The rise of the far-right has been accelerating for the past ten years says Jamie Bartlett of UK think tank, Demos. It’s a trend that’s seen all across Europe.  Cultural and national identity remains a  sensitive issue.  

The problem that mainstream political parties in Greece face is that they aren’t able to combat the rise of the far-left/right because they’re trying to retain party support, so they’re powerless to change the situation, which leads to greater conflict between an increasingly polarized left-right political spectrum.

The above picture is one taken in a Greek train station of police waiting for an arriving train as part of the raid on illegal immigrants.This YouTube video details the same.

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Alina Tsui

New York native. She is a political-science major at City College of New York and is interested in breaking social, political and cultural barriers by writing about these issues.

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