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October 2012, Volume 19, Number 4

Southern Europe

Greece. Greek authorities in August 2012 rounded up 6,000 suspected illegal migrants in central Athens and detained 1,400. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias called unauthorized migration a "bomb" and said: "The immigration problem is perhaps even greater than the financial one." PM Antonis Samaras said "Illegal immigrants have taken over Athens" leading to a "public health problem" and more crime.

There are up to 1.5 million foreigners among the 11 million Greek residents.

Of the 141,000 foreigners detected trying to enter the EU illegally in 2011, 40 percent were detected in Greece. About 60 percent of the foreigners detected illegally entering Greece are from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkey is criticized by many EU countries because it allows many of those who later enter Greece and apply for asylum to enter Turkey without visas, including nationals of Syria and Iran. Once in Turkey, migrants work to save money to pay smugglers.

There are 800,000 registered foreigners in Greece and 450,000 unauthorized or quasi-authorized foreigners, according to think-tank Eliamap, making migrants about 10 percent of Greek residents. Many of the unauthorized or quasi-authorized enter Greece over its 128-kilometer land border with Turkey, where Greece is constructing a $7.3 million fence. The number of Greek border patrol officers on the 200 km Greek-Turkish border has risen from 500 to 2,500; they arrested almost 4,000 foreigners a month in 2012.

Most of the 55,000 foreigners who entered Greece in 2011 applied for asylum. Greece's asylum system is backlogged, and most asylum applicants are not detained while their applications are pending. Many are rejected and given a month to leave Greece, a period during which most try leave Greece for western European countries. If detected in other EU countries, asylum applicants should be returned to Greece under Dublin rules that require the first EU country reached to handle a foreigner's application for asylum, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled in January 2011 that asylum applicants could not be returned to Greece because its backlogged asylum system infringed on their fundamental rights.

The continued influx of foreigners has increased support for the right-wing Golden Dawn party that entered the Greek Parliament for the first time after elections in May and June 2012. Golden Dawn, whose slogan is " Greece for the Greeks," has 18 members in the 300-seat Parliament, making it the fifth largest party.

The party organizes patrols to "protect Greeks" in immigrant neighborhoods, prompting a proposal to impose at least three-year prison sentences on those who commit racially motivated crimes. Some polls suggest that, if there were to be another election, Golden Dawn could be the third largest party, suggesting public support for its anti-immigrant tactics.

Greece, in recession since 2007, is experiencing a wave of attacks on migrants, especially in Athens. Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras says that the government wants to put an end to the "invasion" of illegal migrants, but "without vigilantism, without extremism." Greece's unemployment rate topped 23 percent in May 2012, and the rate for youth 15 to 24 was 55 percent. There were 1.2 million jobless workers and 3.8 million workers with jobs.

The Greek government announced a budget in October 2012 that included cuts in civil servants' salaries and benefits, but few of the layoffs of public employees demanded by foreign lenders. After public-sector deficits every year since 2002, the government is projecting a budget surplus in 2013. Corruption and nepotism continue to impede economic growth. For example, there are civil servants who are also part-time farmers and sell their farm produce for cash to avoid paying taxes.

Italy. Some 36 percent of Italian youth aged 15 to 24, over 600,000 people, are jobless. Economists urge the government to reduce protections for workers to encourage employers to hire youth with permanent rather than short-term contracts that limit training and increase youth unemployment.

Profiles of small businesses emphasize that high payroll taxes discourage hiring. A worker with E1,100 a month in net pay costs an employer with 25 employees E2,500 a month. Employers cite high total labor costs and the difficulty of firing workers, who often seek to keep their jobs or to obtain severance pay from labor courts. Many family-owned firms avoid bank loans, fearing they could lose their businesses to the banks in a downturn.

Auto sales in Italy fell 20 percent in 2012 compared with year-earlier levels, and Fiat plants in the country are operating at only 50 percent of capacity; the break-even level for auto plants is considered to be 78 percent of capacity. With high unemployment rates, the government is reluctant to allow auto plants to close.

Malta. The New York Times on September 23, 2012 reported that Malta in 2012 had the highest rate of migrants per capita among the 27-members of the European Union. Most of the migrants are Africans who wanted to get to Italy and apply for asylum, but whose boats foundered near Malta and applied for asylum in Malta, a nation of 400,000 residents.

Under the EU's Dublin Convention, foreigners applying for asylum are dealt with by the first EU country they enter. The Africans in Malta are fingerprinted and, even if they reach another EU country, they are returned to Malta, which is responsible for determining whether they are in need of asylum or should be returned to their country of origin.

Some 16,000 migrants arrived in Malta in the past decade, and the government says that the EU must help to return those who are not refugees. The government often jails new arrivals, even though migrant advocates emphasize that up to half of the migrants may receive asylum or some other form of protection. Most Maltese support the government's detention policy.

Portugal. Unemployment topped 15 percent in summer 2012, and the rate for those aged 15 to 24 topped 35 percent. Emigration is rising toward 150,000 a year, similar to levels of the 1970s. Many of those emigrating are recent university graduates who cannot find jobs.

After the government rescinded a plan to lower labor costs by reducing employers' social security taxes and raising employee contributions, workers emboldened by the success of their protests began to protest against austerity generally.

Spain. Spain had a 25 percent unemployment rate in summer 2012; 53 percent of youth 15 to 24 were jobless, and a tenth of Spanish households have no working adults. Many jobless children have moved in with parents, so that there are sometimes three generations living off pensions that have not been reduced.

A third of workers in Andalusia, the largest of Spain's 17 regions, are unemployed. The Andalusian Union of Workers organized protests in summer 2012 to "invade" public and private land that demonstrators said was not being farmed. Some rural-urban migrants are returning from cities to the villages in which they or their parents were born, a movement known as rurbanismo.

Andalusia and Catalonia in September 2012 requested over half of the $23 billion in an emergency fund that was established to help regional governments deal with their debts.

Turkey. The Turkish Employment Agency (??KUR) reported that 52,500 Turks went abroad to work in 2011; the three leading destinations were Iraq, 10,600; Russia, 9,300; and Saudi Arabia, 7,900. About 9,300 were considered low-skilled.

Turkey signed the Geneva Refugee Convention, but limits acceptance of refugees to Europeans fleeing persecution. As some 125,000 Syrians and thousands of Africans arrive in Turkey, the government is struggling to cope.

The number of non-Syrian asylum seekers rose from less than 15,000 a year to 30,000 in the first nine months of 2012. Processing those who register with UNHCR typically takes five or more years, after which those recognized as asylum seekers wait until Canada, the US, or another country accepts them for resettlement. Turkey does not provide those who apply for asylum with housing or work permits. Turkey is considering what is considered a model asylum law, but it provides asylum only to Europeans.

"6,000 Detained in Greece During Raids on Immigrants," Associated Press, August 6, 2012. "Athens police crackdown on illegal immigrants, August 5, 2012, BBC. "Greece to shift hundreds of police from guard duty to patrols in hopes of cutting crime, "Washington Post, July 31, 2012. "For illegal immigrants, Greek Border Offers a Back Door to Europe, New York Times, July 14, 2012.