By Konstantina Mintzoli, EU Migration Expert
The subject of this article highlights the concept of immigration and its kinds of flows to Greece in two different periods, the one is since the Syria Crisis started in 2011, when people began to flee their homes and seek refugee status and safety. The other immigration wave happened in early 1990s, when the collapse of the communist regimes in countries of Central and Eastern Europe and especially of Alia’ s regime in Albania helped to a big immigration phenomenon into Greece in relation to labor force. I chose these cases since I consider them the two biggest immigration flows to Greece throughout its history. The article seeks the points of convergence and divergence regarding the kind and the causes among the flows as well as and the effect to the Greek public based on the representation by the printed press. (I acknowledge that the main factual data of the present article is the newspaper ‘TO VIMA’, since it is a newspaper that has presented both cases.)
What happened in early 1990s?
In the late 80s, international developments and the fall of the communist and socialist regimes in Europe led to migration from eastern and central Europe or the Third World to South countries of Europe. Greece turned to the center of the attraction for these populations, and especially for Albanians, who accounted for nearly 60 percent of all immigrants, far outdistancing from the second following group. The increased unemployment within a communist status quo that they want to change; without freedom and prosecutions led Greek populations of Northern Epirus and Albanians to leave their lands to find a better life in richer countries.
The Greek state accepted that in Albania there was a large Greek minority, thus, under conversations between the two states agreed on the opening of the common borders.
The legal term of Greek origin migrants defines two categories:
➢ the repatriated Greeks, who are nationals of the new independent states of the former Soviet Union, have Greek origin and have the ability, if they wish to acquire Greek citizenship (through jus sanguinis but not Greek nationality.).
➢ the expatriates with Albanian nationality and Greek origin, who may obtain a special residence and work permit.
On the press is written “the borders opened by Albanians, like many prisons, and hundreds of thousands of Albanians run to Greece and Italy to find any work”. The title of the article is “Albania is afraid and hungry” with big and bold letters covering two pages. The same article reads “between refugees arrives and many agents of the Albanian regime”. Metaphors such as “ﬂooded with aliens”, “invasion” or “hungry hordes” are frequently used. Albanian migrants were stigmatized as “criminals” by the press and generally by the Greek media, creating the stereotype “dangerous Albanians”.
Negative stereotypes and public threat perceptions are constructed, leading to the “Albanophobia” and the image of the ‘migrant-criminal’. They reached the peak point in 1991 and regularly revived in the Greek media and by certain political personalities. The consequent xenophobic feelings fermented amongst the Greek population have then been used to justify government actions. For instance, in June 1991 the former Foreign Minister Antonis Samaras stated:
“Economic refugees are no longer accepted by Greece and today we agreed to strengthen border guards (…) Moreover the characterization of refugees agreed as” economic “rather than” political ”
The former minister of Public Order asked Greeks to protect themselves against a physical attack, since “the Alia’s regime has a plan for the eradication of the Greek element in Northen Epirus.” As a result, the government and media promoted the existence of a serious threat. And the consequence of the threat is the securitization. Brutal actions of Greek people to Albanians were considered to substitute the lack of law. Patrol zones and special police squads were established as well as the reduced penalties against of Greek perpetrators against migrants and the unofﬁcial expulsions of Albanians (known as ‘sweep operations’), formed the belief that the life and the rights of a foreigner are not important.
Greek printed press overemphasized crimes, thefts and burglaries for which they were accusing Albanians, even if the offender had not been arrested. Additionally, they casted Albanians with words that adopt a specific line of negative argumentation such as ‘untrustworthy’, ‘dangerous’, ‘illegals’, ‘aliens’, ‘threat’, ‘criminals’, ‘prisoners’. From one point view, it could be argued that the antagonistic historical relations between Albania and Greece can be added as one of the reasons, which has contributed to such reactions.
Notably, based on the ‘Fearon list’, Greece is one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe in terms of religion, language and ethnicity. Greece, from an exporting country, transferred to a host country in the early 1990s, while it was lacking of a coherent Greek immigration policy. Therefore, phenomena such as social exclusion, xenophobia, and racism followed, reﬂexing the feelings of loss of security.
What has been happened since 2011?
In 2011, the Arab world faced the riots of the ‘Arab Spring’. The domino effect led the Syrian Arab Republic in a more difficult and complex way passing into a heavy ‘winter’. A key element that characterizes the contemporary migratory phenomenon is the fact that immigration has not the organized nature that had in earlier times, but it has an increasing number of immigrants with no ‘normal’ or regular way.
The Syrian flow consists a mixed flow population. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the top three nationalities of the around one million Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2015 were Syrian (48%), Afghan (21%) and Iraqi (9%). The rest, about five percent, are migrants and refugees from 21 countries.
Additionally, they also leave the first asylum countries and search for others, in case they lack of supplies and the living conditions are insufficient, becoming ‘twice displaced’. Greece is in the frontline of Europe and the entry is easier for migrants and refugees due to the proximity to the Mediterranean Basin. The immigration mixed flows consist economic migrants and asylum seekers traveling together diverse in terms of the nationalities, the reasons of fleeing and the routes they choose to arrive.
This time the printed representation is dominated by heartening and horrifying images. The migrants are refugees, a natural consequence of a war. An article in 2012 writes, “The refugee issue should not to be confused with the problem of illegal immigration”. Other titles that depict the majority of the type and the wording the printed press uses are: “New tragedy: 13 children and 9 adults refugees dead …”, “70 children dead in the Aegean in two months”, “Aegean: How long will we count dead children?” “Another aspect of the drama of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece”, “This migrant crisis is different from all others” as it is consisting families, young couples, students and people from middle class, based the coverage of the media. Being categorized as a refugee implies public recognition of the ‘asylum-seeker’s’ credibility, of his/her not only ‘true’ suffering but also ‘righteous’ self-assertion as a political subject.
Greek press refer to this flow as an ‘issue’ and not as a ‘problem’, with which they called the flow of Albanians. Moreover, it encourages the public to help and show humanity. Also, press represents the involvement of the international and European actors on the issue and makes it clear that immigration is not just a Greek problem is a European problem, while its aim the transformation of the migrants in Central and Northern Europe. In addition, the terminology adopted by the government and reproduced by the media, arouses emotions in order to exercise psychological pressure on Greek citizens to accept without reaction the foreigners in that new world order. They have used of wording to ‘refugees’ and not to ‘migrant’ or ‘illegal”. They also present refugees as professionals, business or farmers, who have been forced to abandon their land and occupations, bringing a few personal possession son ‘a new trail of tears.’ Subsequently, this representation triggers strong feelings of compassion and solidarity.
An opinion, which cannot be overlooked, is that the orientation of migration has not only connections with social or economic criteria and incentives; it consists also the sense of hospitality. The concept of hosting is very familiar to the Greek mentality and culture, having its roots in the experiences of Greeks and their history. Images and stories of those and more residents from other islands have been reproduced in all around the world, receiving admire. This is encouraging for these people to continue to ‘save’ people.
|Flow of 90s in Greece vs Flow since 2011 in Greece|
|One mainly ethnicity’ s flow||Mixed flows|
|Labor migrants subdivided into unskilled/seasonal – Economic migrants||Refugees/RSD/; Illegal immigrants/; IDPs; Asylum Seekers; Economic migrants; unskilled and skilled migrants
|forced repatriation to the country of origin in 1992 and 1997||–|
|protection from their own state||no protection from their own state|
|Greek-Albanian land border||Greek-Turkish land and sea borders|
|Adults; mainly men||Men, children (unaccompanied minors-children without a responsible adult to care for them), women and elder people|
|Victims of discrimination||Victims of Smuggling and Trafficking|
|opportunities to resume a normal life and economic self-sufficiency (in Greece)||few opportunities to resume a normal life or economic self-sufficiency (in Greece)|
|one route||three primary routes|
|–||help by NGOs and civil society|
|few usage of pictures||many pictures that depict pain and death|
|push factors: poverty; unstable political situations||push factors: Homelessness; violence; Lack of economic growth|
|pull factors: Financial and political stability of Greece: common borders||pull factors: Protection and beneficial policies; Humanitarian Aid|
The two mentioned immigration flows to Greece could be used as an example to prove that with the passage of time, the nature of conflicts has led to the change of the nature of the migration flows, as well. Greece has clearly been a receiving county of inflow of migrants and in both researched cases it was unprepared to face the new volume and the quality of the flows. The concept of migration therefore varies depending on the social, economic and cultural conditions.
The power of media to portray perceptions is unquestionable in both cases. Albanians were presented as invaders, emerging a sense of threat and alarm, as they were linked with criminality and employment- taking. On the other hand, in the case of the Syrian migrants, even if it is a mix flow, Greek printed press is affecting the public opinion by provoking a global wave of emotion and indignation. To conclude, it is not the usage of the word “security” that is crucial, but rather the “designation of an existential threat.
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