Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Catastrophe in Greece: blame it on the immigrants

Mass migration & diaspora is a central part of Greek social history going back over 3,000 years & has contributed immensely to human culture from the Mediterranean world to the Americas. The word xenophobia has a Greek etymology for a good reason. That history makes it ironic that Greece (because of geography & porous borders) has now become a main entry point to Europe for thousands of undocumented immigrants from Asia, Africa, & the Middle East. Every year, over 130,000 refugees from economic collapse, poverty, & war enter mainly through Turkey to find work. Because of border patrols, many are unable to move further into Europe & end up unemployed & homeless in Greece. Greek media uses the convenient shibboleth of xenophobia to blame the problems caused by the IMF/EU austerity program on immigrants. Crime, drug addiction, the spread of disease are all their fault. The government has launched a major crackdown on immigrants with hundreds of police deployed in sweeps of immigrant neighborhoods, harassing & hauling in hundreds for lacking residency papers, drug use, prostitution. Police have announced plans to convert 30 old army bases into detention centers using shipping containers for housing & in Athens just opened the first in this concentration camp program. The government also plans on detaining immigrants they deem a public health risk which is vaguely defined but would require compulsory health exams, treatment, & incarceration. The purpose is not to provide health care but to harass. Immigration became a central issue in the recent national elections with two of the major parties (PASOK & New Democracy) promising to crack down on immigration & the neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn promoting deportation of all immigrants. This once obscure group of thugs has deep connections to the police & has engaged in frequent physical attacks on immigrants. They won 7% of the vote & 21 seats in the new parliament. New elections are slated for June 17th & Golden Dawn hopes to pick up more votes since in the first election 35% of voters did not cast a vote. Some progressive commentators have suggested that austerity is the main issue & immigration too polarizing to campaign around. Such commentators don’t  have sufficient respect for the divide & conquer strategy used around the world to drive a wedge between working people & immigrants. They would be wise to review the rise of fascism in Germany. Here homeless Afghan immigrants sleep in empty rail cars under a rail bridge in central Athens.  (Photo by Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

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