Until a few years ago, the term "immigrant" had a positive meaning and referred solely to the Greek immigrant to Germany, to Australia, to USA...
At that point, somewhere around 1990-1991, the term "immigrant" changed meaning and significance. Its meaning became negative and from then on referred to the Albanian immigrant to Greece.
The last four years, climaxing in the election for the European Parliament in 2009, the term "immigrant" re-acquired its positive meaning, in contrast with a new category and term that was created, that of the illegal immigrant.
The illegal immigrant (also known as: illegitimate immigrant or immigrant without papers, non-register migrant or undocumented migrant) is none other, in a European level too, from the “undesirable immigrant”.
Henceforth even the most progressive of governments, international fora, legislations and directives have raised an impenetrable wall from Dublin to Stockholm, between the immigrant and the illegal immigrant. As if the first, the good one, has two legs, while the second one, the bad, has three.
The first one is entitled to laws of naturalization, political rights, civil rights, citizenship. The second kind of immigrant, the “bad one”, is entitled to be repatriation, deportation, the refoulement, and the fortification the borders against them.
Is it like that though? Is this distinction so explicit? And who is the illegal immigrant, anyway?
The modern immigrant, the “good” one, before becoming legal, was also illegal, in other words, he entered in the country in an illegal way, or stayed in it with not legal ways, until the state decided to legitimize his and give him some kind of legal status.
The modern illegal immigrant, the “bad” immigrant is just someone that the state has not provided him with any legal status.
Inside this big conglomeration of immigrants one will find many categories. From the political refugee, to the environmental-induced refugee, to the developmental-induced refugee, to the economic immigrant. They mainly come from Central Africa (Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria) and Asia (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh). The majority of them are neither pure economic immigrants nor political refugees but people “in between” these two big categories. In any way, this is a case of forced migration – where emigrating is not a luxury but a matter of pure survival. Thus, their age range differs from the pure economic immigrants. Those, are usually young people, between 20-30 years of age. In the “illegal immigrants” one can find all age ranges.
The process currently – and I hope not for long more – used by our country is the following:
Whoever enters the country without following the legitimate processes is arrested, (note that there is no possibility for someone to come with a legitimate process), and taken to the Special Areas for Housing Foreigners or detention centers (frontier centers for guarding immigrants). In these reservations, the non legal immigrant will remain for 2, 3, 4 or 5 months, depending on the availability of free space in the buildings. During that time, he remains under lock in a considerably dirty cell together with many other foreign immigrants, does not have yard time, he is malnourished, he gets sick – suicide attempts are not infrequent. Nothing will happen while he remains/is jailed in this area, nobody will talk to him about his rights and obligations, nobody will prepare him for the day after. When he is finally set free, the Authorities will provide him with the
paperwork for Administrative Deportation, with which he is allowed to stay in the country for a month, a ticket to Athens by train or boat and a map of the historical centre of Athens.
The African will end up in Amerikis Square, the Afghan will go to Attikis Square and the rest will end up in Omonoia – at the ghettos we ourselves created.
Thus the young girls will be branded “Nigerians” and will sell their bodies in Geraniou Street and other such streets, the Africans will end up as street vendors selling bags and CDs, the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis will sell flowers and clean car windows. Lastly, unaccompanied minors will hide in Patras and Igoumenitsa, hoping that they will be able to escape Greece and end up in Northern Europe.
After the month has passed, the foreigner will be arrested and will remain for 1-2 months in a cell in the police stations of Omonoia, Akropolis, Agios Panteleimonas. When they are released they will again be provided with an Administrative Deportation paper, which allows him to stay in the country for a month, and so on and so forth.
We are content to believe that this model constitutes an immigration policy. And in a perverted way it does. The target of this model is the reduction of the flow of immigrants. It is based on the following logic: You will have such a bad time in Greece so you will end up telling your friends how ugly things are in Greece, so that they will not want to come over. Overly childish, I would say.
This model ignores the fact that these people neither do they choose with any rational criteria to leave their country, nor has Greece been their choice. The right to life is what they seek, when they leave in the middle of the night with a baby in their arms, for a destination anywhere in Europe, except Greece, (they know well what kind of hell Greece is), but Greece is the first gate of the European Union. So they end up trapped here, because the gate to the other European countries is hermetically sealed.
These people being in fact hostages we, both as individuals and as a state, choose to exploit them in various ways, with mischief.
The main sector is labour. By maintaining a high number or workers without a legal status, we strengthen “black” labour. This in fact constitutes a state policy of giving an indirect benefit to the middle class. Considerably benefited are the owners of houses, which rent their half-demolished tenements for exorbitant prices. But the various bosses that will have them perform work, only to call the police to arrest the illegal immigrants when the time for paying salaries comes, are benefitted too. Finally, there will always exist the few lawyers that will approach them and will offer them false hopes, in exchange for a hefty amount of money, before they disappear.
In reality, there, in the ghetto, the immigrants constitute a giant curtain behind which illegal economy and illegality in general flourish. For him, the resort to fringe behaviour is a rational choice – the only way of survival. For us though, it is a successful model of economy: drugs, prostitution, black work market.
The greatest profit though is they constitute an easily handled population for the intimidation of society – the victim of Western politics, in Greece constitutes the absolute offender. They are responsible for everything.
It is an old story: from the leper to the mad and then on to the immigrant and now to the illegal immigrant – The creation of scapegoats.
Everyone is exploiting the situation – each one in his own way.
Even the political forms of expression: The Right Wingers, Extreme Rightists and Nationalists face the illegal immigrants as the new subject of the revolution – the former as its apotheosis, the latter with its extermination.
The immigrants themselves though hardly understand all these Western games and the only thing they are interested in, the only thing they claim is their right to life.
EU, of course, is far from innocent: All that is a result of European choices.
For EU the illegal immigrant is a backup army of workers. They maintain it in Greece and when there is a need for it, they man a few. Cherry picking.
Are there any solutions? Obviously, there are. The first thing we have to do as a society is to stop being frightened of “the other”, “the foreigner”, “the alien”.
Immigration is like a storm. A natural phenomenon, that always took place and always will. What we ought to do is utilize policies that will maximize the benefits and decrease the costs.
I will finish with a little story – that of Manolis Delaportas.
A year ago, in a festival for immigrants, I saw a gentleman, in his fifties, evidently of African origin (black). A name card on his lapel had his name: Manolis Delaportas. I approached him, asked him and he explained: “My grandfather was from Kefalonia and he emigrated to Ethiopia. He met my grandmother. They got married. They had kids – one of them was my father. He, in turn, met my mother. They got married, had children. They gave me my grandfather’s name”. Now, Manolis Delaportas came to Greece, seeking a better life, as an illegal immigrant. It’s that simple.
*Speech of Ms.Afrodite Al Salech in the event hosted by Doctors Without Borders, with subject: Immigrants without papers, asking for asylum, refugees: An vulnerable population, 16/12/2009