by Ioanna Mpalla, researcher of the unit «Social and Humanitarian Issues»

Migration is one of the most discussed topics of the last decade. Migration flows exist since the beginning of the existence of human societies, for survival reasons, for freedom people are forced to move to other lands.

The migration flows are always important for economic and political changes. In the recent years the translantionality comes to question the sovereignty and sufficiency of the states.[1]

In case of Greece the immigration and emigration  flows are plenty. After the two World Wars the emigration waves to US were strong. After these wars the country was poor and was facing economic crisis. Between 1950-1974 the greek population emigrates again, this time in Germany, US, Australia. This time the reasons were the civil war and the military coup, as effect of economic instability. But these emigration flows turned upside down in the middle of 1980. Now Greece becomes a receiver of immigrants, as the edge of Europe, is connecting Europe with Asia, Europe with Africa. The extensive oastlines are a way for plenty of immigrants. The reasons that Greece becomes a receiver are the stabilization of democracy and the entry of Greece in 1981 in European Economic Community. In the decade of 1990 the borders between Greece and Albania opened and people after the dissolution of Soviet Union are searching for new lands. So Greece welcomed a wave of economic immigrants.  These waves boosted chiefly the labor force but the lack of policies of the state were obvious, the Greek population was not ready to welcome that number of immigrants, as a consequence the state lost its balance. Greece estimated that these flows were temporary and that was the base of the migration policy. The state tried to ensure the national security and minimize the flows by stricter border controls and other enforcement measures. In the decade of 1990 the number of undocumented immigrants was high. The state was not able to integrate them into the Greek population.[2]

 Between the years of 1997-2013 Greece adapted in the permanence of the immigrants by trying new more efficient policies such as legalization of undocumented immigrants, so that finally they can integrate to the host country.

The economical and social amelioration of Greek society attracts immigrants from Balkans, from the former Soviet Union and from Asia. Between 1981-1991 the immigrants were 180.000, 2% in population of 10 millions. In the decade of 1990 the immigration flows are getting bigger but the numbers are not very different from the last decade. But at the dawn of the new century the numbers are changing. In 2001 the immigrants are 762.000, the 7% of the population.[3]

Undocumented immigrants

In 1997 the European Union, acquired responsibilities in the area of immigrants policy based in the Treaty of Amsterdam, which is the first Treaty that is focusing in social policy. This Treaty is based to community law which is stronger than any national law in EU. Thus, all the country members have to follow more solid immigration policy.  It’s essential to add, that EU even if made a huge step with the Treaty of Amsterdam, the migration policy still has a temporary and selective character. Based on the needs of every country in workforce thus, the augmentation of inequalities in international and european level. Only the highly qualified are the most welcomed in the countries of EU. This policy decreases the phenomenon of illegal immigration.[4]

In Greece the first legislative effort for repression of illegal immigrants came in 1991 with the law 1975/1991. In 1997 applied the first Legalization program for immigrants. Between the period of 1998-2006 400.000 immigrants were illegal. After that many laws followed but the main law is the 3386/2005, that provides faster residence permit and the modernization of legislation based on European rules.  In Greece until the 1990 the legislation that existed for the immigration issue was from 1920. The treatment of immigration was defensive. But after the flows from Balkans, the Soviet Union and Asia and the legislation of EU required Greek community to change and adapt.[5]

The majority of illegal immigrants in Greece until 2008 where from Asia, men between the working age of 18-59. The high numbers of fertility of immigrants boosted the population. But while the immigrants were working the same hours as the Greek citizens, they didn’t get the same amount of money and they were not fully insured from the state because of the undeclared work. Thus in long-term can’t help the economy. That still happens because the majority of immigrants haven’t been included in the insurance system  by the state. So while the country has to gain from the integration of immigrants in the workforce and from the increase in consumption, prefers to allow the undeclared work. But the immigrants help either way the economy of the country.

Refugee crisis

After the middle of 1980 Europe became a net immigration continent. Europe has experienced a major surge of refugees fleeing wars and conflicts, as a result, a large number of asylum seekers demanded help. After the end of the Cold War in 1990, created a displacement crisis in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thus, refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, around 7 millions traveled across the Mediterranean and 2 million reached western european countries. That created  crises and instabilities across Mediterranean region.

Today, people again immigrate to Europe for humanitarian reasons. People from Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan are reaching Europe because of wars. The immigration flows from Middle East got stronger in 2014, Syria became one of the top countries of forced movements of people. Those who have the economic means to reach Greece. In 2015 the immigration crisis is in the highest level, 56% of immigrants are from Syria. An overwhelming wave of refugees approached Greece from Turkey. The country gets emergency funds from EU, so the refugees camps in the  Greek islands near to Turkey opened for a large numbers of refugees. After the refugee emergency of 2015-2016, in 2017 the arrivals were low. But in 2018 new rise of immigration and asylum seeking flows around 62.000 people arrived. The refugee camps closed in 2017 as the people moved in the mainland to more proper accommodation or relocated in other EU countries. So in 2018 the camps in the islands and in the land borders of Greece and Turkey reopened. [6]


It’s important here to add that, although we are talking about refugees in FRONTEX 2016 Risk Report these immigration flows named as illegal border crossers.

After the EU-Turkey statement in March 2016 which reforms the asylum process and border regime, all the refugees which are not Syrians are found inadmissible in the first instance. Of plenty of these people that are not from Syria are coming from Yemen and Eritrea also flee war. Either way these are people who deserve a shelter and the right of international protection does not apply. The asylum seekers are trapped on Greek islands. The conditions under the refugees are living are inhumane with lacking access to basic facilities. All these led to mental and health problems of the refugees.[7][8]Under these circumstances, plenty of children end up in foreign lands without their parents, they are unaccompanied. In 2016 Interpol announced that 10.000 child refugees have disappear after arriving Europe. In 2018 the number of unsupervised children in Greece was 3.050, 96% were boys, the insufficient hosting structure is a reason for them leave and try to find their way alone. Many NGOs running projects funded by EU to find them. These children are unprotected, homeless and vulnerable to trafficking and sexual abuse.[9]


 In 2017 more than 1 million Syrians demanded asylum from the countries of EU.  Today the population of the Greece is 11 millions, with 11% immigrants-refugees. The biggest part are refugees. The same time huge number that immigrated in Greece the previous decades, left the country between the years of economical crisis. So today we are talking mainly about  refugees from Middle East, which see Greece as the path for the central Europe.  Greece has  always been the easiest gate to Europe, with easily crossed sea borders from Turkey thaτ ισ difficult to be managed.

The number of places for the refugees when the arrive in  the greek territory  are insufficient and the conditions are disappointing, so the asylum seekers are facing difficulties  especially accessing health services and they are vulnerable and unprotected.

To sum up, migration is a part of every country, immigrants and refugees are reaching Europe as they are hoping for a better life. Unfortunately, the laws and the effort specifically from the Greek governments are not that strong. Problems of acceptance, absence of social integration don’t let immigrants tie with their new country, to assimilate the culture and the civilization of the receiver country.

These people are facing the cruelty of conflicts and the European hardening of borders. The hate and the racism against the people that they are searching for a better life, shouldn’t belong in any western society.

[1] Ζάββου A. (2013). Φύλο, μετανάστευση, διαπολιτισμικότητα,Kεφάλαιο 1.

[2] Gropas R., Triandafyllidou A. (2005). Migration in Greece at a glance. Available here.

[3] Cavounidis J. (2004). Migration to Greece from the Balkans. PP 35-59. Available here.

[4] Cavounidis J. (2004). Migration to Greece from the Balkans. PP 35-59. Available here.

[5] Ρομπολής Σ. Η μετανάστευση από και προς την Ελλάδα, Kεφάλαιο 1

[6] Raposo, Ines Goncalves, Uuriintuya Batsaikhan, Zsolt Darva (2018). People on the Move: Migration and Mobility in the European Union. Available here.

[7] Bello V. (2017). International Migration and International Security. Routledge. Part II.


[9] Council on Foreign Relations. (2017). Sex Trafficking and the Refugee Crisis: Exploiting the Vulnerable. Available here.