The rise of anti-migration discourse in Greece

Background information on the rise of anti migration discourse in Greece in the context of the forthcoming bordercamp in Lesvos.
A personal report from K.

Since the beginning of the campaign for the European elections, there was an evident effort to bring to the forefront the question of migration as a security threat. First, it begun with scattered reports in the free press about Greek trendy multicultural bars and restaurants closing down because of rising health ang hyigene hazards in areas with large migrant populations in the centre of Athens. It then turned into a more serious preoccupation with the “downgrading of historical centre of Athens” because of rising numbers of migrants – in particularly Muslim ones. This contributed to the rising popularity of the extreme right-wing group Chrisi Avgi in certain regions of Athens like Agios Padeleiomonas, where a committee of concerned citizens closed down even the local play ground because “there were too many mothers in scarfs there”. In several regions of West Athens the systematic violent racist attacks against Paksitani migrants by neo-Nazi groups have intensified. Police “scooping operations” have become an everyday occurence. In addition the municipal and national police all over Greece have engaged into a not so new project of systemactially terrorizing migrant petty traders, treating them violently, arresting and imprisoning them, and confiscating their goods.

The European elections brought the ultra right wing party LAOS (meaning “the People” – but also abbreviation for Popular Orthodox Alarm) to the fourth place for the first time. The vast majority of its voters are male aged 18-35. LAOS made a very open anti-migrant campaign based mostly on issues national identity, security and migration control. The main arguments of the campaign were that Greece cannot support any more foreigners, that migrants are a threat to national security and cohesion, criticizing the other parties for their lack of a real policy of preventing migrant influxes and deporting illegal migrants. During the campaign, the leader of the party, Giorgos Karatzaferis, met with Greek Roma representatives making the claim that if Greece is a country that cannot even provide for its own destitute citizens – like the Roma- it is impossible to support all those migrants that have “swamped” it. Because at the moment none of the leading parties PASOK (first in the European elections) and Nea Dimokratia (government) seem to be able to have the necessary majority in case of national elections (which are most likely to take place next March if not sonner), there is a lot of speculation about a cooperation of LAOS with Nea Dimocratia. The leader is a former member of ND anyhow.

But what is even more important is that the agenda that LAOS has set has been adopted by several institutions and politicians across the political spectrum. As a result, migration in official disocurse is now discussed amost exclusively according to the terms set by LAOS. The Minister of the Interior anounced that he was going to create a migration detention centre in the outskirts of Athens in order to put inside all illegal alliens and clear the centre of Athens, while all illegal migrants caught at sea will be held in a special boat which will act as a floating detention centre in internatioanl waters. In a TV debate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed that her party lost because they ignored the security of citizens being threatened by migrants, while a spokesperson for the opposition argued that Greece should push EU institutions to accept that the Greek borders must be protected by all European forces and not just Greece, pushing Turkey to accept the burden for all these illegal flows. Even the spokesperson for the Greens said that a real policy of “sending people off” should be implemented in order to deal with the problem of refugees in Patras. Public discourse in general has turned and is more likely to turn towards an even more anti-migration direction with nationalist fears of Turkey sending Muslim migrants to Greece and refusing to respect readmission agreements in order to undermine Greek national identity being uttered daily in public.

From my personal experience in an occuppied municipal building, even independent left wing people (mostly over 50s) have emerged with anti-migration arguments of the short: “I am not a racist but there is a limit to how many migrants Greece can handle”, “It is OK with people like the Albanians who have families and have integrated, but when it comes to Muslim men like the Pakistanis or the Africans we cannot accept living together”.

There is a lot of contradiction and ambiguity of course – but overall this is the picture I have.

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