Immigrant children living in Greece made their case for citizenship on Feb. 27 at a news conference held at the offices of the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers, under the title Citizenship for All Children.
“We claim citizenship for all children. They are our children, children who live at the next door, go to school with ours. We demand a law that would fully cover all children and give them citizenship,” Yiannis Albanis, programmer of the event stated. He also announced a concert organized by the Centre for Civil and Political Rights which will take place on March 21 at Thissio.
Marianthi Hindow, from Nigeria, moved to Greece at two years old, studied at the Infant Care School and referred to the problem of being appointed to the municipality, due to lack of the Greek nationality. She also described the difficulties in getting citizenship she instead has to renew her residency permit.
The Centre for Civil and Political Rights, initiative along with other anti-racist organizations as well as immigrations’ communities, have started a campaign targeting the concession of the Greek citizenship to immigrants’ children in Greece, but are being opposed by the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which wants them out of the country.
At the same event, 19 migrant rights groups gathered to protest a recent ruling by the country’s highest administrative court over a law granting second-generation migrants the right to apply for Greek citizenship. The Council of State on February 5 deemed unconstitutional the law, which was passed almost three years ago and which is known as the Ragousis law after former Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis.
In a joint statement, the migrant groups accused the government of “adopting a right-wing agenda” with its decision to challenge the law. “For the first time, that law addressed issues concerning the children of migrants, taking a few timid steps toward granting citizenship… steps that other countries in the European Union took a lot earlier and to a much more advanced degree,” the statement said.
The citizenship law was ratified by Parliament in early 2010, allowing those who had been born to immigrant parents legally living in Greece for at least five years to be granted Greek citizenship provided they had studied at a Greek school for a minimum of six years.
Greece stopped granting citizenship under Ragousis criteria in December, in anticipation of the Council of State’s ruling being made public. The decision irked coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left but they went along with it as they have all other policies being set by Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader.
“Two hundred thousand children are left in limbo, without papers, without rights, without hope,” the migrant groups said. “These are the children of migrants born in Greece or who came to the country at a young age. These are children we often call second-generation migrants, when the fact is that Greece is the only homeland they have ever known,” the statement added, according to the newspaper Kathimerini.
Meanwhile, the Council of State’s decision could mean that some of those who were granted Greek citizenship in the last three years will lose their rights. The statement added that of the some 200,000 people who are eligible for citizenship under the Ragousis law, 6,072 have succeeded so far, or just 3 percent.
“Now the government wants to reduce or even abolish this ridiculous percentage, which places Greece way at the bottom of the EU scale on the issue,” the statement said. Last month, Deputy Interior Minister Haralambos Athanassiou said that the Ragousis law would be replaced with legislation that would require migrants to show a “genuine bond” with Greece and prove they had assimilated into Greek culture. As it stands now, even if they were born in Greece, went to Greek schools, speak Greek, and know Greek history better than citizens, they are not eligible to become one.
“Being granted citizenship via a confusion of prerequisites and bureaucratic procedures will be an untenable dream for those who wish to apply,” the migrant groups said, adding that the only group applauding the Council of State’s decision wass the “neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn,” in reference to the extremist party that was elected into Parliament in June on an anti-migrant platform.
“The basic reasoning of the government and the judges is to render Greece unattractive to migrants. The fact is that it has already stopped being attractive because of the deep economic crisis. Another fact is that an increasing percentage of Greeks – especially young Greeks – are preparing to or have already emigrated to other countries looking for that which their country has for two decades withheld from others: the hope of a better life,” the statement said.
The migrant groups called for a new law that would improve citizenship rights. “People who have lived for years in our country, who have families, who work and pay social security contributions and taxes, who are our friends and neighbors, have every right to become visible,” the statement said.