January 25, 2010

Suggested amendments in the Greek nationality - from the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees

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Greek nationality code -
One step ahead or two steps backwards

The Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees sees the suggested amendments in the Greek nationality code as well as the suggested amendments regarding the right to participate in the municipal elections, as being a step in the right direction.

In particular, the suggested amendment to grant Greek citizenship to second generation migrants, under the condition that they have been born in Greece or that they have completed a minimum study period in Greece, puts an end to a regime of holding second generation migrants hostages. Until today, second generation migrants were entitled only to a temporary residence permit which depended on the legal residence of their parents or on the fulfilment of certain insurance and tax related criteria for those over 21 years of age. The amendments introduced with art. 40§7 of law nr 3731/2008, which would supposedly deal with the problematic situation of second generation migrants, had not solved any of the existing problems. The required fulfilment of three conditions accumulatively, namely birth in Greece, completion of nine years of compulsory school education and legal residence of both parents in Greece at the time that the child reached 18 years of age (as well as a high fee of 900€) in order to be entitled to a long-term residence permit in Greece (but not Greek nationality), was inaccessible for the overwhelming majority of second generation migrants and was therefore hardly implemented in practice. 

Even though the current amendments still leave specific problems unsolved (eg the situation of unaccompanied minors or of minors whose parents reside unlawfully in Greece, the high fee first generation migrants have to pay when applying for naturalisation), they are seen in their whole as positive. Under the amendments, following categories of migrants are granted the right to Greek citizenship: a) migrants who were born or are born in Greece and have at least one parent who has resided lawfully in Greece for five years or obtain this right once five years have been completed, b)migrants who have completed the first three years of compulsory education in primary school, and c) in any case migrants who have completed six years of education in a Greek school and have thus received Greek education.

In addition, the suggested amendment to give to all migrants who have long term residence permits in Greece the right to participate in the municipal elections, is also a positive measure. Even though migrants continue to be deprived of the right to be elected in higher positions, the suggested amendment is a step ahead in the social inclusion of migrants, something which until today had been totally absent in the Government's policy towards migrants who were put in the margin of social and political life.

However, under the pressure of racist and xenophobic critical views that saw recently the eye of publicity, we discern a certain reluctance of the Ministry to implement its own suggested amendments. It is thus with concern that we saw the latest explanations provided by the Ministry during the electronic consultation that took place in order to discuss the  Government's suggestions.  Despite the careful wording with which these explanations were provided, in particular with regard to the right to naturalisation of first generation migrants and less about the right to Greek nationality of second generation migrants, we cannot but express our deepest concerns that the suggested amendments will be given a very limited scope of application.

Apart from the obvious clarification that nationality and citizenship mean the same, the rest of the explanations provided, in particular the one about the obvious necessity of lawful residence of both parents of second generation migrants in Greece before granting Greek nationality, seems problematic since it may eventually exclude second generation migrants who have completed certain years of study in Greek schools.

Until today, the right to attend compulsory education in a Greek school, had never been associated with the lawful residence of the pupil or his parents, since education was seen as a public good that nobody could be deprived of. Offering Greek education to every migrant, whether regular or irregular, was also in the interests of Greek society itself since this way it ensured its stability and continuance.

We therefore express our deep concern that under the pressure of extreme xenophobic attitudes the Government will go a step backward and return to conservative provisions and practices. We see as a step backward any clarification or interpretation which will depend the right of second generation migrants to obtain Greek nationality on the additional requirement of their lawful residence in Greece or of the lawful residence of their parents, a requirement which undermines the preconditions mentioned in the suggested amendments, and in particular the one about completion of certain years of education.

We hope that any step ahead in the direction of a fairer law of nationality will not be combined with two steps backward.