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    Copyright: All those wishing to use or publish the following text are welcome to do so, provided that they indicate the source and inform the AIM office in Paris which is interested to receive comments and reactions on the information it provides. AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 25 NOV 2000 20:39:31 GMT

    Greece's New Immigration Bill: Progress or Regression?

    Greece's Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou characterizes the government's new draft immigration legislation, which is scheduled to be tabled this week, as "progressive". Human rights groups, however, vehemently disagree.

    AIM Athens, November 25, 2000

    Local rights advocates have voiced their concerns about this controversial bill. They have denounced it as "anti-immigrant" and are calling for major revisions to be made before it is discussed in parliament. The National Human Rights Commission (EEDA), the office of the Greek Ombudsman and the US-based international Human Rights Watch have also issued their own reports recommending changes to the immigration bill.

    After a two-week-long research mission in Greece this month, Human Rights Watch concluded that the bill "fails to provide basic human rights protection for undocumented children and for other vulnerable migrants". Greece's EEDA (a group which consists of representatives of various ministries, parliamentary parties as well as members of the Greek Confederation of Workers in Greece (GSEE), the Civil Servants Supreme Administration Council (ADEDY), the Ombudsman's office, the Data Protection Authority, university professors and non-governmental organizations) has also expressed concern over clauses laid out in the bill that restrict migrants' access to health care and deprive their children of education. EEDA's eight-page critique of the draft law also points to provisions that set limits to family reunion.

    One of the main objections to the bill, which was drafted by the interior ministry in collaboration with several other ministries is that it does not make any reference to the current policy of the issuing of the Green Cards and fails to address the hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants living and working in Greece. The draft immigration legislation focuses on the procedure that will allow foreigners to enter Greece legally for employment and study in the future.

    Migrants, human rights groups and trade unions have been tirelessly calling for a second legalization of undocumented migrants since last year. They have argued that this is the only way to correct the mistakes of the first 'amnesty law' which caused much frustration. The Green Card application process was riddled with bureaucratic obstacles and requirements that proved impossible for most migrants to fulfill, despite several extensions of the deadline that were issued by the labor ministry.

    Papandreou last week announced the long-awaited second chance for undocumented migrants to become legal. But this new legalization round, which has been proposed in a transitional provision, is to begin as soon as the bill is passed. Rights groups fear that it will be difficult for hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants to secure legal residency.

    The second chance will apply only to those who can prove they have been living in Greece for at least two years on November 15, 2000. What will happen to the undocumented migrants who arrived after November 15, 1998 or the many others who cannot prove how many years they have been living in Greece?

    "They will have to leave," Papandreou told a crowded press conference last Thursday.

    According to human rights groups, as many as several hundred thousands of undocumented migrants will be denied the opportunity to gain legal status. Those who have better chances are some 150,000 migrants who had registered with the Organization for the Employment of Human Resources (OAED) in 1998, in hopes of obtaining a Green Card, but did not manage to submit their application due to bureaucratic requirements which they described as "impossible" to fulfill.

    Migrants in Greece view the proposed second legalization with mixed feelings. It is good news for those who had registered with OAED, but did not manage to apply for the Green Card, but bad news for many others who arrived to Greece after November 15, 1998 or have no way to prove the number of years they have been living in Greece.

    According to the president of the Athens Labor Center, Thomas Patrikios, the new legalization is a "step in the right direction".

    Questions about the 'second chance'

    There are many unanswered questions about the transitional provision for the new legalization of undocumented migrants. Sources within the interior ministry say that the fine points are still being worked out.

    Some of the questions are as follows:

    Will undocumented migrants who have been living in Greece for at least two years be able to apply for legal residency if they had been deported during this period? There are a large number of undocumented migrants from neighboring countries, such as Albania, who had been caught by police, deported, but soon after illegally returned to Greece. Their names are on the public order ministry's so-called "list of undesirables".

    Will those who have applied for asylum be able to secure legal residency from this new legalization? There are many asylum-seekers who have been waiting more than a year to have their claims for asylum reviewed by authorities.

    Will rejected asylum-seekers who are illegally living in Greece be able to apply for a residence permit?

    Other questions concern the second transitional provision announced by Papandreou aimed at speeding up the renewal of the Green Cards. She said that Green Cards that expire before or on December 31 this year will be "automatically" renewed for one year. At present, this takes longer than six months, as applications have to be examined by a special committee set up by the labor ministry.

    It is uncertain whether migrants who wish to renew the Green Card will still have to fulfill the requirements as outlined in a circular issued by the labor ministry in February 1999 outlining the procedure. According to the circular, to renew the Green Card, the holder must have collected at least 150 social insurance stamps (ensima) for each 12-month period since the Green Card was issued. This translates to about 1,000,000 drachmas' earnings for each year the Green Card is valid.

    The small print of the new bill

    Article 53 of the draft immigration legislation serves to restrict undocumented migrants' access to state hospital care. As outlined in the bill, all employees in the public sector, including state hospitals, are obligated to notify the police if an undocumented migrant seeks their services or else they will be held liable and subject to administrative disciplinary action. Undocumented migrants are only entitled to free medical care in emergency situations and until their condition is stable. This provision in the bill is based on a health ministry circular issued to all state hospitals on July 13.

    Critics shiver at the thought that hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants, including young children and elderly persons, who need medical attention will have nowhere to go. The Association of Hospital Doctors of Athens and Piraeus (EINAP) has openly condemned this ministerial decision and have called for it to be repealed. The president of EINAP Stathis Tsoukalos has declared that doctors will ignore it.

    "We believe that people who need medical attention should not be turned away by doctors," Tsoukalos said. "All migrants should have access to a doctor even if they do not have legal residency."

    EEDA also objects to this provision in the bill. It notes in its critique of the legislation that this would make medics unwilling to treat undocumented migrants and that it creates "a mechanism for the policing of foreigners".

    Also, the bill, if passed into law, will oblige people renting apartments to undocumented migrants to notify authorities or face stiff fines of 500,000 to one million drachmas. This also applies to hotel owners and any one else who offers any kind of shelter to undocumented migrants.

    Critics also point to Article 42 which explicitly states that migrant children whose families legally reside in Greece are entitled to attend public school. An earlier version of the bill stated that even migrant children whose parents are undocumented have the right to public schooling. But, according to the final version of the bill, thousands of children could be denied this right.

    EEDA recommends that the drafters of the bill secure the right to education for all migrant children. It also notes that the draft law should incorporate three paragraphs from Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by Greece. These three articles read as follows: "c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; and e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of dropout rates".

    Articles 28-32 concerning family reunion have also been put under the microscope. According to these, a migrant who has been legally residing in Greece for at least three years will be able to bring his or her spouse and children to settle here. This three-year residence requirement, according to EEDA, is a contradiction to EU law. The European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers explicitly states that this waiting period cannot exceed 12 months.

    EEDA also recommends that the term "family", which in the bill refers only to spouse and children, be extended to include other members. It also objects to a clause that prohibits these family members who move to Greece from working during the first three years of residence in the country. This will "promote illegal employment," EEDA warns in its report.

    Another area of concern is whether the procedure laid out in the bill, which foreigners must follow when seeking to enter the country for work purposes, can be realized. The bill proposes the creation of a complex network of migrant employment offices in every prefecture around the country as well as in other, mainly neighboring, countries, mainly those that border with Greece, such as Albania.

    Kathy Tzilivakis