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18 Feb, 2009 07:25

Hard life for immigrants to Greece

Fearing immigration, Greece nonetheless has become an entry point for thousands aiming to escape their troubled homes in eastern countries on their way to Europe in search of a better life.

In the middle of the prosperous port of Patras there is a refugee camp. No one knows how many people live there. The authorities turn a blind eye to their existence. They are not registered and they have no jobs.

Harrib, like many there, has travelled thousands of kilometres overland from Afghanistan, through Iran and Turkey. However, Greece is not his intended destination.
Harib says he cannot go home, and is planning to illegally take a ferry to escape Greece one day.

“I would like to fix my life,” he said.

It is impossible to count how many others are in the same position. The number of official asylum seekers in Greece has risen tenfold in the last decade to over 20,000 a year. And for those trying to do things the legal way, non-government organisations are the first port of call.

The Greek state is obliged to provide asylum seekers with housing, an allowance and hospital care. However, funding is insufficient and NGOs are filling the gap.

“The level of social care in Greece is low,” said Spyros Koulocheris from the Greek Council for Refugees. “There is no tradition like in other countries, like in Scandinavian countries. It is kind of a different country, different mentality.”

Still, even if temporary conditions for refugees improve, for the majority Greece will not become their new home.

Authorities in any country try to separate those who are genuine asylum seekers and cannot return to their home country, and those who are economic migrants.

In Greece, less than one asylum application in 200 is successful – one of the lowest rates in the world. Immigration expert Anna Triandafyllidou says there is a political will behind this.

“There is an overarching view that migration is a problem,” she said. “That it is an evil that has fallen upon us.”

Some Greek politicians believe the identity of their country is built on ethnic and religious unity – and immigration threatens it. Consequently, even those who legally work in the country cannot expect the same rights as the locals.

“Because you are a foreigner, they will never treat you as a Greek,” says one immigrant woman.

But whether Greek government likes it or not, the floodgates have opened, and the flow will not stop any time soon.