Via the Athens News
A SHOWDOWN is looming over a historic overhaul of Greece’s decades-old system of citizenship rules on the naturalisation of immigrants and their children.
Ruling socialist Pasok on February 8 tabled a watered-down version of a bill aimed at putting most children of immigrants who were born and raised in Greece on a path to citizenship.
Based on the draft law, the Greece-born children of immigrants will become eligible to acquire Greek citizenship at birth, provided both parents have been legally residing in Greece for at least five years. The preliminary version of the bill required that only one parent be legal.
The new bill also says immigrant children who were not born in Greece but who have completed at least six years of public schooling in Greece will also be eligible for citizenship. An earlier version of the bill had required only three years of schooling.
But not so fast, critics say.
Main opposition New Democracy and rightwing Laos have both harshly criticised the proposed legislation, arguing it will create incentives for undocumented migrants to cross the border with their children.
Both parties also expressed concern the bill would give rise to “birth tourism” whereby foreign mothers who are pregnant come to Greece to have their children so they can become Greek citizens.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party (KKE) and leftwing Syriza blasted the government for making the rules tougher. They blamed Pasok and New Democracy for the country’s failed policies on immigrant integration.
From right to left, the gulf between the two arguments is so vast and the politics of immigration so heated that the prospect of a consensus remains distant at best.
The immigrant-citizenship debate has been raging on for several years without resolution. Now the Pasok government appears determined to press ahead with its reform, regardless of the opposition.
The government has the numbers to bulldoze the bill through parliament.
Immigrants make up 10 percent of the country’s population.
Under existing law, Greece is a jus sanguinis, or “right of blood”, state that only recognises citizenship by blood. A person’s citizenship is determined by his or her parents’ citizenship, so only those with blood ties to Greece may be Greek citizens.
To be eligible, immigrants must prove they have lived in Greece legally for 10 years in the 12 years preceding the date of their application. They must be over 18, and they must not have a criminal record or a deportation order issued against them.
Refugees recognised under the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees can apply after five years. Foreigners married to a Greek can acquire nationality after three years, but only if they have a child of Greek nationality while married.
The Greece-born children of immigrants may apply for Greek citizenship through the process of naturalisation on their 18th birthday.
George Papandreou prime minister
Immigrants live with the day-to-day fear of losing their residence permit and find themselves on the margins of society – as if they came [to Greece] only yesterday.
Their children, the children who were born here, who know no other country, are growing up in fear that as soon as they come of age they will be forced to return to a foreign country that they do not know, or else find themselves in illegality.
An immigrant who was born and raised here needs 28 years in order to even apply for naturalisation. Is this in our country’s interest?
We believe that the bill provides us with a chance to carve out a smooth, secure and cohesive future. We also believe that it creates new opportunities. Greeks of Indian origin, Greeks of Albanian origin, Greeks of Filipino origin, Greeks of Ukrainian origin and so on, all proud of their Greek nationality.
Antonis Samaras New Democracy leader
The automatic granting of citizenship to immigrant children born in Greece… has two problems: One is that it will also benefit their parents – citizenship will not only be granted to the children. Secondly, it will make pregnancy a means of naturalisation.
Based on the proposed measures, if there is a future legalisation, immigrant children already born here [to undocumented immigrants] will be eligible for citizenship retroactively along with their parents. And this is how the automatic citizenship will become a real magnet for the mass influx of immigration.
Mr Prime Minister, we are proposing that the children born in Greece should become eligible for citizenship when they come of age. And that they should meet only two conditions: that they have completed the nine-year basic education… and that they renounce the citizenship of their parents.
Aleka Papariga KKE leader
So does integration mean that he who acquires [Greek] citizenship must forget that he is Albanian, Pakistani or I don’t know what? Are you serious?
Did the Greeks who became citizens abroad forget that they are Greeks? Why should members of our diaspora, who have been living abroad for 50 or 100 years, enjoy more rights?
There are people who have lived 10, 15 and 20 years in Greece and do not even have a residence permit. They have worked and contributed to this country, they have gone to school and they’ve learned Greek. These people are considered illegal.
We don’t consider citizenship a panacea. Citizenship, unfortunately, does not mitigate the rise of nationalism, nor does it wipe away slave wages.
We cannot support this bill, which is even worse than the first draft that was also problematic. But now you are making concessions to New Democracy and Laos.
Alexis Tsipras Syriza leader
I’ve been listening to you talk about illegal immigrants as if there is such thing as illegal people. I’ve been listening to you talk about sweep operations, as if people are garbage.
To all those who talk about illegal immigrants, just think that in each Greek family there is a former illegal immigrant. By the thousands, they packed immigration trains and refugee ships to go to Germany, to go to Europe and to America. In each Greek family there is a former illegal immigrant who is now a European citizen, a German citizen, a Belgian citizen, an Australian citizen and an American citizen.
It is hypocritical to applaud and be proud of high-ranking officials in Europe and America who are members of the Greek diaspora.
My dear colleagues, policymaking over the past years has been distorted, piecemeal and addressed the immigration phenomenon with fear.
Yiorgos Karatzaferis Laos leader
We want a referendum on the issue.
You speak about 534,000 legals. They are not legal, they are legalised. Only those who entered the country legally and who respect the laws of the country are legal. How many of them respected the country when they first set foot in the country?
Mr Prime Minister, for them – those who came legally – I automatically accept any kind of naturalisation procedure. But not for the others who came illegally…
In Greece, there are two things that nobody knows: the number of civil servants and the number of illegal immigrants.
So what are we going to do? In 10, 15, 30 years, they say, Greece will have three million immigrants. And if today the children are, an estimated 18,000 or 19,000, next year there will be 30,000 and one day we will have 200,000 and 300,000 and 400,000.