Organised Crime in Greece: An external or internal problem?

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Terrorism, Organized Crime & Security

By Alexandros Christodoulides, Junior Analyst KEDISA

Organised crime is a matter that has attracted official and public attention for many years. Most government and law enforcement agencies have long regarded it as an important policy issue and because of its extent, it presents significant risks and challenges to the social, political and economic well-being of states and the international community [10]. In the early 1990’s, Greece received a large number of immigrants from various contexts [1]. Perhaps it is not random that during the same period, organised crime was defined and understood as a problem [11]. In many countries including Greece, organised crime has been largely viewed through the ‘alien conspiracy’ perspective [1], which suggests that it is an issue imported from abroad, associated with ethnic minorities who ‘corrupt’ the society of the country they immigrate in [9]. This article will explore the prevalence of organised crime in Greece as well as examine the question of whether organised crime is an external issue produced by immigration, or an internal issue that is generated by the Greek society, independently from foreigners.

According to the Greek census of April 2018, the total of documented foreigners in Greece was 523.715 [6], in a population of 10.768.193 [4]. It is difficult to provide an accurate figure regarding the number of foreigners as there are an unknown number of undocumented foreigners in Greece [1]. Due to the country’s long borders and coastline which are difficult to patrol, Greece is seen as vulnerable in terms of illegal immigration [2]. Throughout the years, Greece has changed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration that has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of undocumented and smuggled immigrants [3], who are characterised by public officials, the media and the public as ‘problem populations’ [5].

Several foreign ethnic groups migrating in Greece, are associated with organised criminal activities which have several consequences to the Greek society. It has been argued that the uncontrolled flow of illegal immigrants poses multiple dangers to Greece’s national security, destabilising social cohesion through demographic denaturation and encouraging the spread of organised crime and terrorist networks [8]. Foreigners contribute in serious crimes such as homicides, robberies, thefts and burglaries, as in 33% of homicides and in 51% of thefts and burglaries, the perpetrators were foreigners [8]. According to the Annual Organised Crime Report [7], Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian as well as Middle Eastern and Asian organised crime groups are heavily involved in various activities such as drug trafficking, thefts, robberies and human trafficking. Furthermore, it has been suggested that such ethnic crime groups constitute a steady and significant threat to the Greek society [7].

The stereotype of the ‘organised foreign criminal’ is very well consolidated in the Greek social consciousness. As it was argued previously, immigrants are often perceived as problematic people, both by officials and the public [5].  Research on public perceptions towards immigrant criminality, suggests that the majority of the Greek public believed that foreigners have altered the nature of crime in Greece, introducing activities that were unknown to the Greek context such as drug and arms trafficking, migrant smuggling and human trafficking [1].

The above findings suggest that ethnic crime groups are indeed involved in various criminal activities which have severe consequences to the Greek society, resulting to the ‘conspiring criminal alien’ image being well integrated in the perception of the Greek public. However, it is still questionable that organised crime is an issue purely ‘imported’ by foreigners that corrupts the ‘honourable’ Greek society. Out of the 37 criminal organisations operating in Greece in 2004, 34,7% comprised of Greek nationals only, 34,7% comprised of foreign nationals only, 24,6% comprised of Greek and foreign nationals with the remaining 6% not being established [7]. The link between corruption and organised crime is also noticeable in Greece. More specifically, mountainous Crete is known for being a ground-zero place for drug lords who are able to operate undisturbed due to the pressure of the police by local politicians [2]. Focusing on specific criminal activities, 26,2% of the total arrestees for cocaine smuggling between 2001 and 2006, were of foreign origin while 73,2% of them were Greek nationals [2]. The Greek cocaine market seems to be mainly operated by actors involved in the nightlife, hence their name ‘Godfathers of the Night’, who are also involved in cigarette and oil smuggling, extortion as well as migrant smuggling [2] [11]. Indeed, undocumented immigrants are trafficked by organised criminal groups originating in Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, but also in Greece [2]. Even in activities mainly conducted by foreign crime groups, Greek nationals are heavily involved in different phases of those activities [1].

Analysing the issue of organised crime in Greece, the question of whether organised crime is a problem ‘imported’ by foreigners or a problem generated within Greece, was examined. Evidence suggests that foreigners and illegal immigration in general, contribute to the prevalence of organised crime in Greece, in the form of various criminal activities such as drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, homicides, robberies, thefts as well as arms and human trafficking. However, the heavy involvement of Greeks in illegal markets not only signifies that these illegal markets are not exclusively the business of the ‘other’ but also that the notions of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ are increasingly blurred because of the officials allowing organised crime groups to operate undisturbed.



[1] Antonopoulos G.A. (2009) ‘Are the ‘Others’ Coming? Evidence on ‘Alien Conspiracy’ from Three Illegal Markets in Greece’. Crime, Law and Social Change 52 (5), 475-493

[2] Antonopoulos G.A. and Taganov N. (2012) Greece: the Politics of Crime in Corruption and Organised Crime in Europe: Illegal Partnerships (eds) by Gounev P. and Ruggiero V., Taylor and Francis Group, 125-143

[3] Antonopoulos G.A. and Winterdyk J. (2006) ‘The Smuggling of Migrants in Greece: An Examination of its Social Organisation’. European Journal of Criminology 3 (4), 439-461

[4] Elliniki Statistiki Arxi (2017) Calculated Population as of January 1st by Gender, Age and Nationality [online] available from <>

[5] Lee M. (2005) ‘Human Trade and the Criminalization of Irregular Migration’. International Journal of the Sociology of Law 33 (1), 1-15

[6] Ministry of Immigration Policy (2018) Statistics of Permanent Immigration April 2018 [online] available from <>

[7] Ministry of Public Order (2004) Annual Report on Organised Crime in Greece [online] available from <>

[8] Nomikos J.M. (2013) ‘Combating Illegal Immigration, Terrorism, and Organised Crime in Greece and Italy’. International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence 26 (2), 288-303

[9] Task Force on Organised Crime (1967) The Task Force Report: Organised Crime. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office

[10] Wright A.  (2006) Organised Crime. Willan Publishing

[11] Xenakis S. (2004) ‘International Norm Diffusion and Organised Crime Policy: The Case of Greece’. Global Crime 6 (4), 345-373