Strawberry Fields Forever: The Plight of Migrants in Greece

Strawberry Fields Forever: The Plight of Migrants in Greece

Immigrants_Greece-3

The recent shooting of Bangladeshi workers working at Strawberry fields in South Greece, after they demanded outstanding wages might have shocked the nation, but brought to light the plight of migrants that enter Greece every year. The migrants often leave behind them war-zones to seek a better life within the European Union.

This report is based on extensive field work (February-March 2013) on the island of Crete (Herakleio, Ierapetra, Anogeia) and it is a joint research project of Journalist Fragkiska Megaloudi and photographer Stylianos Papardelas

As Greece enters its fifth year of recession – and Greeks are reeling under the weight of salary slashes, a rising tax burden and euro zone’s highest unemployment rate – life for migrants is becoming tougher amid rising racism as well as a drop in living standards. However, third country nationals are still widely used as cheap labor notably in constructions and the agricultural sector.

Some 550,000 people of Greece’s four million working population work in agriculture, with 95 per cent of its cultivated surface owned and operated by small farmers. Every year, thousands of migrant workers are employed in farms and greenhouses, which earn more than 3 per cent of Greece’s GDP.

Half of Greece’s plastic-topped greenhouses – that account for 51.360 square meters – are located on the island of Crete. The majority of those – some 170.000 square meters – are found in Ierapetra, a small town of 27,000 inhabitants, on the south east coast of Crete.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 foreign workers are employed each year in the farms and greenhouses of south eastern Crete. Most often they are undocumented and housed in primitive conditions.

Salim*, a 25-year-old Pakistani national, crossed the border illegally into Greece in 2009 after having paid Turkish smugglers, $2000. He arrived in Ierapetra two years ago to work on the greenhouses. When he started, he said he could earn around 17 euro per day, but now he can barely survive. Salim has not been paid for four whole months.

He shares a two roomed house with two other men. The smell of dampness and stale food fills the air. There is no bathroom and the three men use an outbuilding transformed into makeshift ‘toilet’. Each month, they pay 100 euros rent to live like this.

Salim points at one of his roommates, a young skinny man who stares nervously at the floor.

“His boss promised to pay him 15 euro per day to work in the greenhouses. It’s been a year now and he still did not get paid. When we asked for the money, the boss threatened to call the police,” he says.

Photo credit: Stylianos Papardelas

The greenhouses need a constant supply of cheap labor to operate. The work is tough and the temperatures inside can reach 40-45C. The legal minimum wage for a day’s work is currently fixed at 33 euro but migrant workers rarely get paid more than 15 euros. Most often than not, they don’t get paid at all. The employer refuses to pay the wages, threatening to report the migrant to the police if he complains.

“The boss prefer to employ migrants without papers”, says Salim.
“When the work is done, they threaten to call the police. You have to shut your mouth if you want to survive.”

Even in times of crisis, young Greeks have a preference to find employment in their chosen industry or skills set whilst relying on their families for financial support. They do this instead of taking what they perceive to be low-class and low-paid work. Therefore, farmers have to rely heavily on low paid migrants to work in their fields. The economic crisis has also aggravated the situation. With the price of fuel and fertilizers tripling in the last two years, and the high transportation costs, farmers claim that the only way to survive the crisis is to cut down on wages.

“Prices have gone up during the last three years and it’s very difficult to make profit any more”, says Manolis*, a producer at the local farmer’s market of Ierapetra.

“Conditions are tough and very few Greeks accept to work for 20 euros. I use foreigners and I never face problems. Those who have problems are the ones who don’t pay them.”

“Foreigners are not welcome here,” says Katerina*, a woman in her fifties and the owner of a restaurant in the center of Ierapetra. Although she has been married to a third country national for more than 20 years, she can still feel the discrimination in her community because “people will point their finger on the one who mixes with the foreigners.”

The two communities remain largely segregated. Migrant workers – notably from south Asia – live hidden in old houses and shacks near the fields, slowly creeping into town at daybreak, queuing up in the roads and looking for casual work.

For Katerina, the working conditions are equal to slavery.

“Everyone knows this system exists but nobody wants to acknowledge it. The Pakistanis here live worse than animals,” she says.

“They are being constantly harassed and accused of all sorts of things: from assaulting old ladies to eating dogs. They are so poor that is an easy target. If a young gang wants to have fun, they beat up Pakistanis.”

Only two months ago, three Pakistani migrants were attacked in the small village of Vainia northern of Ierapetra, by a gang of ten men. They were beaten with wood and iron sticks. The men were members of Golden Dawn, the political party that has been called a Neo-Nazi group by many, but has also won 18 seats in last June’s parliamentary elections. The violence occurred after a series of racist attacks against immigrants in the broader region of Lassithi causing a public outcry in Crete.

“Foreigners are excluded of any decision about the community regardless if they reside legally or not”, says Alexia, an elementary teacher, who has been living in Ierapetra for the last five years.

“Three years ago we started a centre for immigrants offering language courses and vocational training. We had to shut down quickly due to lack of support from the community.”

“Greece does not have a fair and effective asylum system and the immigration laws are complicated and often unclear. As a result asylum seekers and migrants face many obstacles even to register their claims. Those who do not succeed to lodge an application are often detained in inhuman conditions”, says Emmanouil Androulidakis, an immigration lawyer and member of the Human Rights Committee of the Herakleion Lawyers Association.

Government figures indicate that only 1.545 from the 45.089 applications for asylum filed between 2009 and 2012 were successful and Greece has been often under criticism from human rights group on its immigration policies.

“There is an increase of negative attitudes towards immigrants”, admits Emanouella Tsatsaki, social worker at the City Council of Herakleion, but insists that racist violence is marginal in Crete.

“At municipality level we encourage the participation of migrants in the decision making though structures such as the Immigrant Integration Council and through municipal consultancy services and awareness events”.

The financial crisis might have made people suspicious towards foreigners but it has also enhanced solidarity.

“People might say that free food distribution should prioritize Greeks but there is a strong support network in the community regardless of origin”, she claims.

This is the case of Anogeia, a mountainous village, some 36 kilometers west of Herakleio – where the Reception Centre for Refugees Unaccompanied Minors of the National Youth Foundation, opened its doors 12 years ago thanks to funding from the European Refugee Fund. Since then, the centre has accommodated some 300 unaccompanied children, aged between 13 and 18, offering vocational training, language courses and so much needed psychosocial support.

Ahmed’s story is typical of thousands of adolescents that escaped war-ridden Afghanistan, eight years ago at the tender age of 14. After having paid smugglers in Iran $3000 to cross the mountainous borders with Turkey on foot, he was asked to jump in a rubber boat with five more men. He survived a three-day perilous sea travel before being intercepted by the Greek coast guard on the shores of the island of Chios. Released on a deportation order, he spent eight months in Athens, sleeping in a public park.

With the help of UNHCR, Ahmed lodged an asylum application and was sent to the Anogeia Unit.

“When I first arrived at Anogeia, I did not want to get out of my room. I would stay inside for days staring at the ceiling,” recalls Ahmed, now 23. But thanks to the support of the personnel, Ahmed was integrated into the local community.

“I have friends here and my life is good, but some people don’t like to see foreigners progressing,” he says and recalls the day that someone cut the tires of his newly bought second-hand car.

His former employer at a local dairy factory still owes him wages that account for 8000 euros.

Ahmed does not want to leave Greece and have dreams of starting a family. But any interaction with local girls is excluded as the local community does not tolerate such behavior. He is still waiting for his asylum application to be processed.

Yannis, a 24-year-old national from Afghanistan who wants to be identified with his Greek name, came to the centre seven years ago. He paid smugglers in Iran to hide him in the baggage space of a bus crossing into Turkey. From there he was packed like cargo into a fishing boat and arrived in the Greek island of Mytelene.

Like Ahmed, he wandered for several months in Athens, sleeping in public parks and eating at soup kitchens before he was sent to Anogeia through the Greek Refugee Council.

He says that life in Anogeia is much better compared to other villages and towns in Crete.

“The mayor and the community are very supportive. People treat us well because they know that we come from harsh backgrounds”.

Marina Stavrakaki is in charge of the Anogeia Unit. “The immigrants are fully integrated in the community. They learn Greek, they work, some of them attend the local high school but the state still refuses to grant them papers”, she says. From the 280 individuals that have been living in the center since its opening, only five have been granted asylum.

Today, Mohammad is 22. After a long journey on foot from Syria to Turkey and then Greece, including two months in a detention center, he came to find himself in Anogeia.

“I have my friends, a good boss, people take care of me and love me. I don’t want to go back to Syria, this is my home now”, he says.

But Mohammad cannot plan his future. Without papers he lives in constant fear of deportation.

“These people have experienced a lot of trauma and when they come to our center are withdrawn and deprived of stimulation. Often they suffer from depression and emotional problems.” says Stavrakaki.

“We help them built a new life but without papers, what choices are left for them?”

*names have changed to protect identities

Watch ‘Destination Nowhere,’ a Greek Reporter video series on Immigration in Greece:

  • Alex

    Illegals should not be in Greece in the first place. Immigrants politely ask to immigrant. They don’t sneak across borders than manipulative rant “racism” and abuse human rights language to justify their lawless behavior. This is RACIST slander against Greeks. The so-called “Greeks” that support this lawless behavior should be ashamed of themselves.

    Athe UK does, as the countries these illegals themselves come from do, as well as every country in the world… Greece has both a moral and legal right to both fine employers that hire illegals and deport illegals.

    If illegals do not leave politely, then force should be used to eject them. Full stop.

  • Alex

    Dailly anti-Greek far leftist crap of Greek reporter. Racism directed at Greeks framed as “human rights”. Disgusting.

  • Alex

    “UK Prime Minister David Cameron says he “wants everyone in the country” to
    help “reclaim our borders” by reporting suspected illegal immigrants.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15235649

  • Observer

    Another smart-ass comment by the skid mart of Greece. Life does not function the way you imagine it to be Alex, you are retarded and you should be killed to protect human pride. Not many people deserve death but you are an extreme exception. Your ideas are not only a poison to the society, but you are also a diminishing return of an aging population. The saddest part of your hypocrisy is that the number of Greeks seeking a better life elsewhere is increasing by day, while you are on your fat ass dissing the other people who came to Greece for a better life. Lets hope you be one of the people seeking refuge in another country, will see how you are treated then you sad little troll.

  • Homer

    Migrants??? I believe you meant to say ILLEGAL INVADERS!
    But what else can one expect from the anti-Greek Reporter.

  • Adde

    “Salim*, a 25-year-old Pakistani national, CROSSED THE BORDER ILLEGALLY into Greece in 2009 after HAVING PAID TURKISH SMUGGLERS, $2000.

    And this OUTLAW who contacted the Turkish mafia to commit an illegal act (entering illegally in Greece) is put in the same bag as REAL Migrants and Refugees who have respected the Law, the Country and its inhabitants to come.

    That proves that many journalists don’t judge peoples on their behaviors but only on their RACE.

    And this :

    “The boss prefer to employ migrants without papers”, says Salim.
    “When the work is done, they threaten to call the police. You have to shut your mouth if you want to survive.”

    Of course they do ! That is what liberals want : SLAVES.

    Youths and especially the youths who are in the verge of ending in the streets are willing to work but they want to be paid for their hard work.

    So what do the LIBERAL bosses do ? They pretend that the youths don’t want to do difficult physical jobs and they participate in the HUMAN TRAFFICKING of peoples from 3rd world country that they can exploit like SLAVES and pay them like they want (if they even pay them at all).

    It began in the 1990s with the Albanians who were prefered by the bosses because they were cheaper workers and now the liberal bosses kick out the Albanians because they have even cheaper workers as well as slaves witht the Bangladeshis, Afghanis and Pakistani peoples.

    Jail all thoses who participated/participate in this slave business and nationalize by force their companies, make the “bosses” give generous compensation to the illegal workers and then deport them in their home country (with 50% youth unemployement, foreign workers aren’t needed and local youths need theses jobs).

  • Adde

    “that the number of Greeks seeking a better life elsewhere is increasing by day”.

    Greeks iving abroad like me, we are either half (my case) or IMMIGRANTS but for the huge majority of us, we AREN’T illegals.

    Please stop putting in the same bag illegals (who are criminal peoples) with immigrants (who are legal).

    How dare you insult immigrants (honests) by saying they are exactly the same as illegals (outlaws) ?

    So for you an honest person isn’t better than a dishonest one ????

    And please don’t tell me that there are honest peoples amongs thoses who contact a mafia to make them enter a country illegally.

    All thoses who behave like that are criminals and thoses like you who defend theses outlaws, you should be made responsibles of all the potential illegal acts theses peoples do on the country they have arrived.

    For Hellas, the outlaws are involved in 71% of serious crimes.

    A governement who care about his peoples wouldn’t have put this dangerous group of peoples in contact with the population and especially women and children.

    Athens Crimes in full dayligh by youyr beloved illegals (2009 and 2010) :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFdh5Anx4uQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUACTQmZlys
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqHZsVN8yo4

    By speaking about wanting a better life , I demand a better life for my father and my little sister who live in the center of Athens and who have to suffer about the politics of rich leftist hypocrite who live in safe areas and who dare to lecture poor peoples who have to live hell because of your multicultural dream.

    As for coming in another country, the same illegals who come in Hellas demanding their rights would never give theses same rights to us if we would be the ones immigrating to their country.

    Do you really think the Pakistani illegals would welcome Christians, Pagan Greeks and Atheists in Pakistan ? Same for Afghanis and Somalis … in their home countries and I don’t even speak about racist country named Saudi Arabia where the cities of Mecca and Medina are forbidden to non-muslims.

    Plus most illegal are muslims, so what about theses zionists giving back Konstantinoupolis, Cyprus and Kosovo ?

  • ExposeHypocrisy

    The attacks in Boston are a lesson for Greece about unaccounted immigration.

    Amongst the millions of undocumented immigrants living within Greek borders, many come from regions full of extremists where human life means nothing, as these Chechens did. 

    Pakistanis are probably the largest ethnic groups amongst the illegals in Greece, and it would be a huge mistake to believe that their previous political affiliations or violent culture would change just because they cross a border. It is unknown how many millions of illegal immigrants there are in Greece exactly, much less if they are criminals or wanted extremists escaping their home countries. 

    Now with the Greek government’s decision to construct a Mosque in Athens, with tax-payer money, they are implying that they are going to let the invaders stay. It is becoming clearer every day that the Greek establishment’s Left and the Right simply do not care about the well-being of the people they are supposed to protect.

    Only Golden Dawn is serious about saving Greece as a nation of Greeks!
    Only a Golden Dawn government would be serious about deporting all ILLEGAL immigrants out of Greece, securing Greece’s borders.
    Only a Golden Dawn government can prevent hordes of 3rd world foreigners from flooding into Greece & erasing Holy Hellas from history!

  • ExposeHypocrisy

    The man who led the destruction of Greece, PASOK ex-leader George Papandreou (whose father is half Polish-Jewish and mother is American-Jewish) , was at the very same Manolada strawberry fields in 2011, praising “new labor practices” that eventually led to the shooting of illegal immigrant workers recently. The PASOK party is at the forefront of calls for banning and falsely accusing Golden Dawn, and even has the nerve to blame Greek nationalists for the incident and harsh conditions at the strawberry farms that they created.Speaking at a conference with the Ministry of Rural Development and Food on “The Greek Agriculture Innovation”, Papandreou talked about the “miracle of Manolada” (brought by hiring of illegal immigrant slave labor that PASOK applauds) . He was so passionate about the denial of jobs to Greeks and use of foreigners as slaves , that he could barely hold back his tears:

    As of yet, the media that blamed Golden Dawn when the shooting happened, has yet to point out that the aggressors were big supporters of PASOK. They also refuse to point out that the “miracle of Manolada” was created not by some revolutionary new technique for picking strawberries, instead it was by utilizing an age old money-saver: illegal immigrant farm labor that PASOK introduced to Greece.

  • ExposeHypocrisy

    With Syriza, PASOK, KKE, and New Democracy all enacting or supporting policies for illegal immigration in Greece, they should look in the mirror to see only Golden Dawn’s policy would’ve prevented the shootings of these immigrants. 
    With “human rights” on their lips, these same corrupt pawns of globalism promote human trafficking, modern slavery, and brutal exploitation at the expense of both Greeks and the very illegal aliens they claim to care so much about. Greek jobs are for Greek people.
    Golden Dawn will send home all illegal immigrants and penalize those who take part in these unconstitutional, unethical, and unGreek labor practice. 

    Both the left and the right support immigration because the slavery enriches the big farm owners who in turn, support the parties in parliament. 

    The national force “Golden Dawn” will defeat slave-drivers, race-replacement, and their political enablers, and bring employment back to the betrayed and suffering Greek working class.

  • geronimo

    If they would be invaders they would be farmers with guns and let Greeks slave for them. If they would have guns only to get paid even that wouldn’t make them invaders.

  • Dusan

    If the Greeks don’t want to do this type of work who will do it then? Should the strawberries be left to rot or should the lazy and useless leftist anarchists and equally lazy and useless but also brainless GD thugs be forced to do this work? That would be a good solution, get the society-destroying extremists (both sides) off the streets, their hands out of their poor parents’ pockets and be put to work.

  • Alex

    Hey trollski, still here? I thought you claimed to be an “observer”. Funny how you keep agreeing with Skopians while obsessively attacking me. Haven’t seen false flag Skopians on this website doing that before.

    As for Greeks that immigrate, they first ask. They don’t sneak accorss borders and rant racism to justify their violation of our soverignty (like you Skopians manipulators do)

    As for your suggestion I should “be killed”… remind me again who is the crypto-fascist you dirtbag?

  • Alex

    Greeks do want the work. Unfortunately, while our right are trying to deport illegals, our moronic leftists keep lobbying for them. Leftist employers prefer to exploit illegals because they can pay them next to nothing. (and sometimes even shoot them if they don’t have the money to pay them)

    My own belief is that anyone that hires an illegals should be heavily fined (like the UK currently does). And any foreign funded NGO that lobbies for illegals (e.g. by trying to delete the word “Illegal” and trying to turn them all into victims) should be perminently ejected from Greece for their collusion in violating our sovereignty.

  • Alex

    If “observer” lives in Greece (likely a Skopian or an illegal that is handle swapping on this website), I think he should be tracked down and ejected from Greece.

    We should not tolerate any of these RACIST hatefilled anti-Greek scumballs in our homeland. Given his criminal death threat towards me (clearly “human rights” ) this evil cockroach is obviously just an ultra nationalist that is manipulating human rights lingo.

  • Homer

    Oh so now all Greek farmers painted with one brush…this opinion discredits anything you have to say. These people have entered Greece illegally and unwelcomed therefore they are invaders!

  • No Guts No Glory

    Greece cannot cope with so many illegal immigrants. Its an unfortunate situation and not one anyone would want to be in… If these humanitarian orgainsations who criticise Greece are so interested in assisting they can take all of them and relocate them to any other country they want and at their expense.. As Greece is in dire straits with hardly any money for Greeks why not step up and take abit of the load and accept the cost..and relocate all of them to any other country they would like..e.g. the USA, England, Canada and even back to their own countries..
    But we all know that this will not happen as they will settle in Greece and then demand their own breakaway sovereign country within Greece in afew years which nobody is wiling to accept…like they did in Kosovo and Northern Cyprus and the International Community then calls them Ethnics and does absolutely nothing and acknowledges them as well as Nationals and the locals are foreigners in their own country……

  • Observer

    Trollski? According to you, I am a dirty western, a Brit who agrees with Skopians and now I am a Macedonian. LOL Paranoia at its peak.Anyone who disagrees with your extreme views are Macedonian apparently..

  • Alex

    To me you are a Greek hating bigot.

    I can’t confirm but the fact you constantly apologize for the former Yugoslavians and pretend not to notice their identity change into “ancient Macedonians” and threats against our country, while obsessively trolling Greeks on this website,. suggests you are a Skopian. Given that anti-Greek hysteria these days, Its always possible you are just a run of the mill bigot. Calling for my excecution for opposing ILLEGAL immigration… like every government in the world does… only further illustrates what a RACIST you are.

  • Alex

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron says he “wants everyone in the country” to
    help “reclaim our borders” by reporting suspected ILLEGAL immigrants.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15235649

    “Preventing ILLEGAL working”
    http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/business-sponsors/preventing-illegal-working/

    “Cameron unveils immigration crackdown”
    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/25/uk-britain-immigration-cameron-idUKBRE92O00B20130325

    “Deporting ILLEGAL immigrants costs UK £100 million a year”
    http://tinyurl.com/c4ophp4

    UK penalized any employers that hire ILLEGAL workers
    https://www.gov.uk/penalties-for-employing-illegal-workers

    “Britain rules out amnesty for ILLEGAL immigrants”
    http://www.ukmalayalee.com/immigration-news/news.php?id=MjY5

  • Alex

    Most of the people that claim to be “against racism” when they criticize Greeks… .are usally racists against Greeks (which is witnessed by the fact the majority of them now pretend not to notice or apologize for the Skopians sudden becoming “ancient macedonians”)

    This is precisely how I learned that just because someone claims to speak for human rights doesn’t actually mean they are beyond racism and having prejudices. (and often even extreme nationalists manipulating human rights language to push purely nationalist agendas)

  • Opa

    If Greeks actually got on their hands and knees (aside from practising Sacred Band of Thebes acts) and picked these strawberry’s themselves, then they would not have this migration problem. It was all to sweet for Greeks 5 years ago when EU welfare was paid to Greeks no questions asked and the manual labour was given to these foreigners but once welfare has stopped, they blame these actual workers!!
    Time to get your hands dirty & not be thinking you are superior to every other race because you are mortal as well. Zeus was actually a myth dumb asses!

  • Dusan

    If Golden Dawn supporters are as patriotic as they claim to be they would go and pick up the strawberries for the same wage as the immigrants get. The employers then would have no excuse to employ illegals. Illegals would have no money at all and would be forced to leave Greece. The GD supporters would never do it of course as they are not patriots but lazy gay thugs who would rather spend their time screwing each other and spitting out venom. The anarchists should also forcibly be put to work but they don’t claim to be patriots whose priority is top rid Greece of illegals.

  • BAV1

    It is very clear from these reports that there is a big problem with enforcement when dealing with illegal workers. Having allowed the matter to fester over a long time, authorities now need to redouble their efforts by having them physically evicted and at the same time they should heavily fine and even convict those business owners that employ these people illegally. It’s not surprising then that we are confronted with extremist reactionary elements in a period of crisis because this matter was not properly dealt with in the first place. If Greeks are not careful they must not be surprised if they wake up one day to realise that they have become a minority in their own country. With a local population of only 11 million people such an vulnerability poses a very real threat by hordes of illegal migrants that are desperate to find a better life elsewhere.

  • GA

    Illegal is Illegal.So,these illegals pay $2-5k to be trafficked to the EU, then expect the law they broke to somehow protect their rights.EU only gave money to Greece,so,these illegals wouldn’t end up in their neighbourhoods in the North…Germany,Sweden etc. if you guys are into so much humanitarianism…why don’t you take all these illegals and manage them…instead you in the North pass EU laws preventing this…we know why, talk is cheap.Greece has exposed you talking out of both sides of your mouth aka lying.