Irregular Migration, Xenophobia and the Economic Crisis in Greece
Salvatore Coluccello and Lefteris Kretsos
Abstract: In the context of human security, the chapter explores irregular migration into Greece investigating current trends and routes, and analysing the ‘push’ and ‘pull’factors underpinning the rise in immigration. The 2008 economic crisis influenced the response to large-scale irregular migration of a Greek polity and society already under stress. With the informal sector no longer providing sufficient employment, irregular migrants face increased stigmatisation leading to a rise in societal risk, including violent attacks against migrants, and exclusion. There has also been a lasting change to the fabric of Greek society, notably the xenophobic trajectory of political discourse including the rise of the extreme right.
Massey, Simon and Rino Coluccello, eds. Eurafrican Migration: Legal, Economic and Social Responses to Irregular Migration. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. doi: 10.1057/9781137391353.0009.
Harrowing stories in the media about migrants losing their lives attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece cast a spotlight on the unresolved issue of the perils of irregular immigration to Greece. However, the situation for those migrants who survive the long trip to Greece is also alarming and worrying. Xenophobia has created a predictable narrative in which Greece has become a byword for human rights violations against migrants. Both the police and gangs of extreme right activists commit racist crimes with impunity. Indicative of this are three critical incidents of racist and xenophobic violence over the last three years.
The first incident concerns widespread anti-immigrant violence following the murder of Manolis Kantaris who was stabbed after a theft and assault in a deprived suburb of Athens in May 2011. His murder fuelled three days of racist attacks by the supporters of the extreme right political party Golden Dawn against migrants and asylum seekers despite the identity of his assailants having not been substantiated (Institute of Race Relations 2011). The second incident involved the shooting of 28 undeclared migrant strawberry pickers by local farmers in Manolada in March 2013 (Enet English 2014). The migrant workers were abused, and ultimately shot, by their employers when they demanded their overdue wages. The third incident does not involve the killing of a third-country migrant, but rather the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old anti-fascist musician who was stabbed to death by Golden Dawn supporters in the working class area of Keratsisni on 17 September 2013 (World Post 2013). This brutal murder resulted in the arrest of Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos on the charge of creating and belonging to a criminal organisation, involvement in murder, physical assault, money laundering and other charges, revealing in full the activities of his party.
Despite this level of violence against migrants, every year thousands transit through Greece attempting to travel towards northern Europe (Papadopoulou-Kourkoula 2008). This small southern Mediterranean country still remains one of the major entry points into Europe for people escaping persecution, endemic poverty from war-torn parts of Asia and Africa. The arrival of boatloads of poor and desperate migrants from Somalia, Syria and Eritrea is often associated with rescue operations by the Greek coastguard. In this context, neither the street terrorism of
Golden Dawn, nor the former government’s tough immigration policies designed to seal Greek borders, have stemmed Greece’s popularity as a transit and destination country for non-EU migrants. Indeed, as a result of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, numbers are rising fast (Economist 2014).
To a significant extent, Greece’s popularity for migrants is a result of its geographical proximity to Africa and Asia. The Greek-Turkish border is the location of some of the key crossing points into Europe (Morehouse and Blomfield 2011; Frontex 2012). Structural elements of Greece’s economic and political framework also encourage irregular migration. Prior to the global financial crisis, Greece enjoyed buoyant growth rates encouraging migrants who perceived Greece as a viable destination country. Although, Greece has suffered during the crisis, the size of its informal economy, the significance of the agricultural, construction and tourism sectors, as well as the seasonal nature of its economic activities continues to encourage irregular migration.
Irregular migrants often make decisions on their future according to challenges and opportunities that they encounter in transit. The role of social networks, both local and transnational, is crucial during this phase and to the way in which migrants adapt to structures and conditions found in the country. As Papadopoulou-Kourkoula (2008) argues, irregular migration in Greece is characterised by long periods spent transiting the country, during which migrants experience great uncertainty and vulnerability. The deep economic crisis and draconian austerity measures, combined with rising xenophobia as evidenced by the electoral success of Golden Dawn have resulted in a climate described by human right organisations as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ (United Nations High Commission for Refugees 2010; Human Rights Watch 2012). Migrants are trapped in a semi-collapsed economy. Society has been traumatised by harsh welfare cuts resulting in extreme unemployment rates, poverty and anger leading to a section of the population being seduced by xenophobic populism (Triandafyllidou and Maroukis 2012).
This chapter examines the intersections between irregular migration, the economic crisis and xenophobia in contemporary Greece. The chapter firstly examines the evolution of irregular migration to Greece since the early 1980s. Secondly, it analyses the impact of the economic crisis on the labour market and investigates the risks faced by migrants. Finally, the chapter explores the rising xenophobia and the emergence of Golden Dawn as a force in Greek politics.