US embassy cables: Greece and migration

The Guardian released two embassy cables provided by the by now well-known wikileaks cablegate that report on the Greek government’s position and strategy on dealing with irregular migration. This article provides a short summary of the contents. Both reports were written shortly after the change of government in October 2009, in December and February respectively. They don’t offer any surprising insight, but sketch some policy lines.

  1. Greece tackles migration and asylum issues. 4th of December 2009
  2. Greece revamps security service and tackles immigration. 1st of February 2010

The first embassy cable, Greece tackles migration and asylum issues confirms that asylum and migration are high priority to the new government, both on a domestic as well as on a European level. From the summary:

Greece’s new PASOK-led government has placed migration and asylum policy reform high on its agenda, announcing new measures to combat organized human smugglers, ease naturalization requirements for immigrants born in Greece, provide status to illegal economic migrants, and transfer Greece’s asylum process to a new independent authority. […] Prime Minister George Papandreou and his cabinet are acutely aware of the criticism leveled at Greece’s asylum process and migrant detention centers by human rights organizations. The new Greek strategy involves not only domestic policy reforms but also “Europeanizing” the issue of migration enforcement: putting pressure on the EU to provide more support on border security, urging Turkey to crack down on human smuggling in the Aegean and to take back deportees, and revamping the Dublin II agreement, […]. Despite some success in placing migration on the broader EU agenda, however, the government faces daunting challenges in toughening migration enforcement and implementing a comprehensive, effective migration policy.

After giving statistical information in section 2, section 3 and 4 continues to describe the domestic situation with a securitarian perspective:

While nearly half of all illegal migrants come from neighboring Albania, the more visible surge in immigrants from conflict zones in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa has Greeks particularly worried. Migrants participated in the violent protests in Athens between December 2008 and March 2009 (see REF A), and immigrant squatters have taken over some Athens neighborhoods and exacerbated “Greek flight” from downtown areas. Without legal status, lacking opportunities for economic and social integration, and chafing under Greek refusals to build an official mosque, Muslim illegal migrants–especially young men from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia–may be vulnerable to Islamic radicalization in the underground prayer rooms that have proliferated throughout major cities.

Section 5 deals with international criticism concerning Greece’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and the repercussions this criticism has had on the Dublin II system.

Section 6 outlines the policy response: The renaming of the former ministry of public order is described as consolidating law enforcement agencies […] into the new, DHS-like Ministry of Citizen’s Protection.

This should help the government better coordinate among security services on combating illegal migration.

Then, there is information on the reformulation of the asylum process.

Fulfilling a PASOK campaign promise, Minister for Citizen’s Protection Michalis Chrysochoidis formed an asylum experts’ committee to propose reforms. The committee, composed of representatives from UNHCR, NGOs, academics, and officials, first met on November 26. NGO and government insiders expect new legislation to take up to six months to formulate, and are looking at stopgap measures to address pending asylum applications.

As well know, those six months was an optimistic bid, with the new Asylum law expected to pass parliament in January 2011 only.

Section 7 refers to the possibility of a legalisation round. While the new citizenship law was passed in late 2009, the legalisation process has not materialised so far and is something that will need to be fought for. But if even the Greek goverment considers 200.000 legalisation a good number, then sky is the limit.

Over the last decade, Greece has had three rounds of amnesties, providing temporary residence permits to large tranches of illegal migrants, and Ragousis [Minister of Interior; w2eu] said a new amnesty might apply to up to 200,000 immigrants. To prevent an amnesty from attracting even more migrants, officials claim border enforcement would be strengthened. However, Greek law enforcement agencies, despite the recent ministerial reorganizations, remain woefully underprepared for large-scale interdiction of smugglers, and investigators and courts lack the expertise and patience to pursue the leaders of the organized criminal networks that profit most.

Section 8 and 9 refer to the “Europeanisation” of the migration issue and is reproduced here in entirety (our emphasis and added links):

8. Because of these domestic shortfalls in migration enforcement, the Greeks have also focused on “Europeanizing” the issue, using a three-pronged approach: putting pressure on the EU to provide more border security support, urging Turkey to crack down on maritime human smuggling and to take back deportees, and pressing for changes to the Dublin II agreement. To raise awareness on migration issues, Greece hosted the Global Forum for Migration and Development, an informal conference bringing together governments and NGOs, in November. Over the last six months, Greek leaders have tried multiple tactics to pressure the EU: signing a four-way enforcement cooperation agreement with Malta, Cyprus, and Italy and jointly submitting an illegal migration whitepaper; bilateral meetings with EU border states focusing on enforcement and migration burden-sharing; raising migration issues at EU gatherings of foreign and interior ministers; pressing the EU to forge readmissions agreements with migration sending countries; and inviting FRONTEX, the EU border agency, to increase its presence in the Aegean. Greek officials have tried to use the EU to pressure Turkey to live up to its 2001 bilateral protocol to readmit third-country aliens.

9. The Greeks have been successful at gaining the attention of EU leaders. In July, EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot noted that uncontrolled immigration risked “destabilizing Greek democracy” and called on Turkey to do more to stop migration flows. Gil Arias-Fernandez, deputy director of FRONTEX, stated during an October visit that Turkey was uncooperative in stanching illegal immigration. FRONTEX has increased the number of air patrols and maritime observers in the Aegean during the year. However, the Greeks haven’t been able to change the dynamics on the ground. Western European officials have told us there is no chance that the Dublin II agreement will be revised according to Greek wishes. Papandreou has tried to foster more positive atmospherics with Turkey and has refrained from harsh criticism on migration. In November, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to Papandreou with an offer to cooperate on migration; a response is expected soon.

The second cable, Greece revamps security service and tackles immigration, written two months later, is focusing on structural changes and first policy implementations. On migration, section 6 and 7 state:

6. Ikonomou [chief of Hellenic National Police; w2eu] described the Greek government’s strategy for dealing with the challenge posed by illegal immigration. Most important, the borders need to be defended as well as possible. This will require close cooperation between the MCP’s elements, especially HNP and HCG, and the military, including the army and the navy. The biggest problem is along Greece’s eastern border, since Turkey [i]s not making any meaningful effort to stop the flow of illegal immigrants across both the land and sea borders. Ikonomou said that he appreciated that Turkey has its own problems with illegal immigration, which is why this is a problem for the international community that ultimately has to take into consideration the countries of origin. He pointed out that if the Greek authorities detained a Pakistani entering Greece illegally from Turkey, the illegal immigrant needed ultimately to be returned to Pakistan and not to Turkey. Given the possibility of the radicalization of illegal immigrants and refugees indefinitely staying in Greece, the government wants the European and international communities to focus on this issue as soon as possible.

7. In the meantime, Ikonomou continued, Greece was taking some strong short-term actions. Most notably, the authorities were sealing Greece’s exits to Western Europe, especially the ports of Corinth, Patras, and Igoumenitsa, as well as the airports in Athens and Thessaloniki. In their recent trip to Italy Ikonomou and Bikas explained this approach to their Italian counterparts, so that the services of both countries could conduct joint operations, share best practices, etc. By closing the exits, Greece wants to send a strong message to the organized-crime rings, as well as the illegal immigrants themselves, that they cannot achieve their dreams of getting to Western Europe through Greece.

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