Miltos Pavlou is a sociologist with legal and interdisciplinary formation, author of numerous publications and public presentations on migrants and minorities, racism and discrimination in Europe and Central Asia.
Currently he is heading I-RED, Institute for Rights Equality & Diversity.
1) Recent elections in Greece punished the two moderate parties and awarded the left-wing, anti-austerity party and the far-right, ultra-nationalist. How do you comment these results?
Xenophobic discourse and anti-migrant hate speech was widespread prior to the election and helped to make violent far-right groups accepted and to appear as a “solution” to the “migration problem”. The fact is that for the first time the so-called moderate parties adopted such rhetoric and brought into parliament anti-migrant legislation including a provision, about detention of migrants on health grounds. Therefore, it was easier for misinformed or desperate Greeks to vote for far-right parties. It also goes noted that the far-right groups in some cases, such as the old centre of Athens, are active through extremist organized violence but also by providing protection and assistance to elders etc. in heavily degraded urban environments, where the state is absent and social welfare inexistent. In a way Greece pays the mistake of not using properly or at all, EU funds for support and proper living conditions for asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, and for migrants’ integration.
2) Right before the elections the government coalition passed an amendment according to which undocumented migrants and asylum seekers can be detained on health grounds. It also started implementing a plan of mass detention with the opening of the first of 30 new detention centres for migrants. Was it all propaganda? What can we expect to happen now?
What happened prior to the election was an anti-migrant rhetoric which secured that the Minister for Public Order (of ‘Protection of the Citizen’) and the Health Ministers were two of the very few Ministers re-elected as members of the Parliament. A couple of days prior to the election one detention centre with decent living conditions opened in Attica, allowing for the local police stations to transfer some 50-100 arrested immigrants they detained in their cells under inhumane conditions. This is part of the government action plan, which was not implemented before. There is much uncertainty about what will happen after the elections, since we are far from having a government in the near future. Civil society is shocked by the high election percentage of an openly neonazi violent organisation and the widespread appeal of xenophobic and hate speech among large segments of the population. On the other hand NGOs face serious survival emergency as they may not secure funds for proper operation, until today provided almost exclusively through EU projects.
3) What could the EU do about this?
I believe there are three urgent issues:
- Investigate how a far-right violent group with neonazi ideology participated in the elections and if and why public institutions – including the judicial system which systematically does not adopt Strasbourg court decisions – did not function properly. It goes noted that the Greek Parliament refused to transpose the Council Framework Decision on Racism: the competent Parliament Committee concluded that this text is optional and not binding (sic!)
- Urge and encourage the proper use of existing EU funds (e.g.Refugee, Return, Integration Funds) by the Greek authorities and civil society, eventually by overriding the dysfunctional Greek administration and assigning-monitoring directly emergency support programs to well-known and prestigious organisations, in order to improve the degraded situation of poor urban areas, regarding reception and living conditions of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in Greece.
- In view of the rise of anti-migrant rhetoric throughout the EU and given the present and future impact of the financial crisis, we should initiate processes – such as a wide EP, EComm, ECounc debate-consultation with civil society, in order to reflect on providing satisfactory answers and change of course regarding migration and asylum. We could use Greece as a case study that reveals the limits and failures of the EU policies, including Dublin II regulation, but also the lack of protection of informal migrant workers and of understanding of the complex socio-economic migration realities in Member States. Especially in those of first reception.
e.g. most of the arrested migrants in Athens are working in informal economy (hand, land, house workers) despite the acute economic crisis in the country. This tells a lot about the need to recognize the reality of migration and to provide legal residence for all those who wish to participate in EU economy and society and are obviously needed and employed.