Monday, 6 July 2009

Greece and the problem of illegal immigrants

Largely on account of it's geographical location Greece has in recent years faced a major problem of illegal immigrants. On the one hand, the country has a large sea border with its neighbour Turkey. This has resulted in a booming industry of people trafficking via Turkey from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan. People basically paying their last pennies for the promise of a better life in Greece or Europe. Recently there have been too many incidents to mention of overcrowded non-seaworthy boats sinking in the waters off the Eastern Greek islands with countless deaths.

Secondly, the border with one of Greece's northern neighbours, Albania, is mountainous and notoriously difficult to patrol. As a result of the fact that Albania is a poor post-Communist country with high unemployment, the numbers coming illegally to Greece are incessant. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge there are no official figures - how can you count illegal entries? Now and again the police do round ups of illegal immigrants in Athens or Thessaloniki and put them on a bus back to Albania but in a couple of days they are back again on the streets. Although Greece has received very negative press on its treatment of illegal immigrants also from international UN agencies, the problem is a thorny one. Are these political refugees, are they economic fugitives? Mainly, in the case of Albanians the case is the latter and there have been a number of amnesties over the years allowing illegal immigrants to register and become legal, many are put off by the bureaucracy or the fear of repatriation. In general, the feeling I think is that Albanians are a boon to the economy. They do many jobs which Greeks would not consider. But now in times of economic hardship as in many other countries we have the right-wing voices claiming that they are taking away work from Greeks.

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