Friday, October 03, 2008

Greece - it's a rising tide of diversity


About 80,000 migrants have traveled to Greece this year and decided to stay illegally, according to the authorities, who say the country can no longer handle the task of guarding the European Union's southeast flank.

While initial problems with the flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who are desperate to enter Europe centered on the Aegean islands, migrants are now wreaking havoc in the capital.

The historic center of Athens has been riven by several street battles in recent months, involving what the police characterize as rival groups, often involved in dealing drugs, from Afghanistan, Iraq and war-torn African countries wielding swords, axes and machetes.

After 11 people were hurt in one such brawl in late August, the police began 24-hour patrolling of the area. Store owners and residents are leaving the busy central shopping and restaurant district.

According to a residents' group, dozens of people renting in the area have left their homes in the past year, and several stores have closed, chiefly small but long-established neighborhood conveniences like bakeries, hardware stores or delicatessens.

Hmmm. How could this come about ?

Georgiadis said that Greece supported the stricter line on immigration being promoted by the bloc's French presidency. "There will not be another wave of legalization of immigrants in Greece in the near future," Georgiadis said, referring to the three programs that have granted work and residence permits to some 500,000 migrants, most of them undocumented foreigners - at least half from Albania - since 1997.

Well, you legalised the previous half-million - just like Boris Johnson's policy director Anthony Browne now wants to in the UK - and you're surprised you get more ?

The unrest in Athens has triggered a backlash from the far-right party Laos, whose popularity has jumped to 5.4 percent in opinion polls from 3.5 percent when it entered Parliament a year ago.

"The city center has been taken hostage by gangs of illegal immigrants with knives - isn't it about time we asked ourselves if we have too many of them?" a Laos legislator, Antonis Georgiadis, said during a recent television debate. He is not related to the immigration official.

Although some on the Greek left have warned against demonizing migrants, the Athens prefect, Yiannis Sgouros, who belongs to the main opposition Socialist party, Pasok, refers to an "explosive problem" in the heart of the capital, where thousands of migrants living in cheap hotels and derelict houses struggle to find work.

"Illegal immigrants are becoming pawns to local drug barons and are forming gangs," Sgouros wrote last week in a letter to Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. He added: "Something has to change or the area will become an arena for race clashes and gang wars."

I suppose it might. But if the British experience is anything to go by, most of the natives will have fled the capital by then.