Immigrants, slaves, and criminals

For some twenty years now, the Greek policy on immigration has been to criminalize immigrants and to give police primary responsibility for dealing with these unwanted people. The approach has reinforced the racist treatment of immigrants among Greeks, and it has failed to both curb immigration and lessen its social impacts. Rather the criminalization of immigrants has exacerbated the difficulty of absorbing the newcomers and helping them become productive members of Greek society. Greek press coverage of the issue is patently schizophrenic. On a weekly basis it seems, press reports make sweeping generalizations that link immigrants to crime, prostitution and drug trafficking. While at the same time, stories about the inhumane treatment of immigrants at detention centers and the deficient process for dealing with asylum seekers share the same news pages. The Greek government, which has come under criticism from the European Union and Amnesty International, has  just announced a new, seemingly more streamlined, process for processing asylum applications. But the government has yet to propose new legislation for reforming the asylum system.

The government, however, only shares the blame for the criminalization and mistreatment of immigrants with the general public. The widespread trafficking of non-Greek women who are forced into prostitution, for example, is dependent on corrupt law-enforcement officials and on the ordinary Greeks who demand sex for money. Athens News, an English language weekly, reported that “extensive research into the sex trade reveals that one million men – about 30 percent of the nation’s sexually-active population – call on these women regularly (about twice a month) to satisfy their erotic whims and impulses.”

Greece figures large in the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, as women, children, and men from several countries around the world are enslaved there.  Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Greece is a transit and destination country for women and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution and for children, men, and women who are in conditions of forced labor. The government and NGOs report that female sex trafficking victims originate primarily in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Nigeria. One NGO reported that teenage males, typically unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa, are forced into prostitution in Greece.

To learn more about trafficking in Greece and worldwide, have a look at the A21 Campaign, a non-governmental organization which operates a shelter for women in Thessaloniki, and watch the organization’s video on youtube.


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