One of the fragile skiffs used by today »s Ulysses to reach European shores, Gibraltar Strait.
Picture by Roberto Carlos Pecino – flickr
Greece is under the scrutiny of the European institutions and financial markets, as doubts arise about its ability to finance its public debt. However, it is important to consider that the Greek government not only has to face deep macro-economic problems, but also faces a social crisis consisting of youngsters » lack of opportunities, the social costs of the reforms and the ghettoization of entire shares of its immigrant population. Any debate about « who profits from Europe » should consider as well whether the European Union (EU) could do more in all these fields.
In 2005 I lived abroad for the first time. I went to Germany and at that time my language skills were not really advanced. For the first time in my life I couldn »t overhear conversations in the bus. One year passed and when I left Germany, I could perfectly understand what was being said in the buses. But when I went home to Athens I came across a similar situation: Most of the talks were in Pashto or in Ukrainian, or maybe in Urdu. Being a young person, who already had an « abroad experience » I have been able to adapt myself easier to an Athens, totally different from the shining town that hosted the Olympic Games only two years earlier.
Nowadays there is an emigration wave coming to Greece. It concerns mostly persons from Afghanistan and Pakistan who ask for asylum, but also Nigerians and nationals from other European countries. The administrative capacities of the country have proven unable to handle such a massive and culturally diverse migration, resulting in a flourishing of grey economy and human trafficking. Consequently rising hostility against the immigrants is to be observed in Greek society. On the top of that, immigrants from Asia most of the time do not come with their families, as it is only the men who come, making their integration much more difficult.
This situation caused, as expected, ghettoization of poor districts in Athens, as well as fear. In some cases hateful violent incidents are even reported. Maybe the answer to the xenophobia can come from the Greek immigrants who managed to adapt in the societies of other European countries. At the current debate evoked by the revision of the law of citizenship, Greek immigrants from abroad argue in favor of the rights of immigrants in Greece. People who fought for their political rights can now prove that integrating immigrants to the society can only be benevolent and enriching. They know that immigrants actively participating in the local political administration cannot only influence the society by explaining their needs and priorities, but also develop a feeling of belonging. For most of them it is a tragedy to watch their country go through the same mistakes that other European societies made, when they first came across migration.
The problem of xenophobia is neither a new problem, nor an exclusively Greek problem. Most European societies receive immigrants or suffer from a « brain drain » due to migration. Therefore it would be important for Europe, as a community of values, to promote dialogue in order to let the citizens enhance with the idea of a multicultural society and to exchange views and practices of integration. Maybe the local administration would have a lot to contribute. Today there is a vast discussion on the importance of regions and how actually regions in different states may have much more in common than regions that belong to the same country. German mayors in Spain or Greek town councilors in Sweden may have a lot to say towards a multicultural Europe.
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« The last Greek » is a novel by Aris Fioretos (page available in Swedish), Swedish author born to Greek and Austrian parents, which tells a story about the Greek diaspora in Sweden. Courrier International n° 1002 published a critique of this book (in French).