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January 2012, Volume 19, Number 1

Southern Europe

Greece. There are believed to be a million immigrants among the 11 million Greeks, including perhaps 600,000 Albanians and nationals of Asian and African countries who often enter Greece via Turkey. Many of the Asians and Africans apply for asylum, which enables them to live openly but not to work legally.

About 90 percent of the illegal entrants to the 27-member EU arrive via Greece. Some leave Greece and apply for asylum elsewhere in the EU. If the country in which a foreigner applies for asylum can show that she entered the EU via Greece, the asylum applicant can be returned to Greece for processing. NGOs complained that the Greek government was unable to properly process asylum applicants, prompting their advocates to urge governments not to return asylum applicants to Greece.

The European Court of Justice agreed with the NGOs in December 2011, ruling that EU governments cannot return asylum seekers to other EU countries if they are aware of "systemic deficiencies" in that country's asylum procedure and reception conditions. Greece, which says that its asylum-processing system is "overburdened," promised reforms.

Unemployment in Greece is high and rising, reaching 18 percent for all workers and 35 percent for those between 15 and 29 in Fall 2011. Some Greeks are leaving cities such as Athens and trying to find work in agriculture, where employment of Greeks is rising. Some of the young and educated Greeks trying agriculture are combining niche commodities with eco-tourism, such as the gum of mastic trees used to make mastic liquor, candles and soap.

Italy. Italy removed restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers January 1, 2012, two years earlier than the maximum seven years that EU countries are allowed to restrict their freedom of movement. There are a million Romanians living in Italy, and 30,000 Italian firms employ 800,000 Romanian workers in Romania.

Germany, the UK and other "old? EU member states are restricting free movement for Romanian and Bulgarian workers until 2014. Spain imposed no restrictions in 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, but blocked freedom of movement in summer 2011, citing a Spanish unemployment rate above 20 percent.

A November 2011 AP-GfK poll reported that two-thirds of Italians consider legal immigration "good" and 60 percent would welcome more legal migrants. Positive attitudes toward legal migrants are strongest in the more prosperous regions of Northern Italy. However, a majority of those polled called illegal migration an "extremely serious" or "very serious" problem.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in November 2011 urged Parliament to grant automatic citizenship to Italian-born children of foreigners, a proposal strongly opposed by the Northern League political party.

Spain. Spain's unemployment rate was above 20 percent for most of 2011, and over 40 percent for youth. Some of the migrants who flocked to Spain during the construction boom returned to their countries of origin as the recession looked likely to persist.

Spain reacted to the debt crisis by changing from a socialist to a conservative government in 2011 and slashing government spending. However, Spain's government debts continued to mount, and are likely to mount further because of spending by the 17 autonomous regions created in 1975 at the end of Franco era. Regional governments provide education, health and social services, and cultural amenities. Some want to turn these responsibilities back to the central government, since property taxes and building fees have dried up.

Turkey. In 2009, more German residents moved to Turkey, 40,000, than Turks to Germany, 30,000. Many of the German residents moving to Turkey were Turks returning to Turkey after decades in Germany. Some 1,400 Turks applied for asylum in Germany in 2009.

Over 23,000 foreigners were apprehended trying to enter Turkey in the first 10 months of 2011. Those caught included 7,500 Burmese, 3,000 Palestinians and 1,300 Somalis. An August 2011 poll by Ipsos KMG reported that over 60 percent of Turks thought there were too many immigrants in Turkey.

Turkey's economy expanded 7.5 percent in 2011, while many EU economies shrank under the weight of government debt. Support among Turks for EU membership is falling, from over 70 percent in 2004 to less than 40 percent in 2010. Turkey-EU negotiations are expected to freeze when Cyprus assumes the rotating EU Presidency in the second half of 2012.

Economic growth has increased the popularity of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2002, who is heralded in the Middle East as a powerful leader who can stand up to Europe, the US and Israel. Critics accuse Erdogan of growing authoritarianism, as more journalists are jailed after writings critical of the government. Many of the journalists, as well as others arrested in the so-called Ergenekon plot to overthrow the government, languish in prison. Erdogan's supporters say that secular opponents of his Justice and Freedom Party unlawfully tried to have the Party and its leaders banned in 2008.

Turkey's internal politics contribute to the sense that Turkey's bid to join the EU has stalled. EU leaders have strongly criticized Erdogan for moving Turkey away from press freedom and liberal democracy.

An earthquake measuring 7.2 struck the Van area of eastern Turkey on October 23, 2011, killing over 600 people. More than 220 strong earthquakes have occurred in Anatolia over the past century, killing over 100,000 people, in part because of lax building standards. Of the over 18 million buildings in Turkey, at least 40 percent are not earthquake-safe, according to the Turkish mechanical engineers' society. Some say a sense of fatalism traced to the belief that God controls man's destiny allows corrupt builders and local authorities to continue building unsafe buildings.