By Kathy Tzilivakis, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission
Actions speak louder than words for the chief of the new Migration Policy Institute. Fotini Tsalicoglou tells the Athens News she hopes to help the government to disentangle the knotty legalisation procedure
AS GREECE talks tough and pursues hardline policies to beef up border patrols and send uninvited foreigners packing, a newly-launched think-tank is set to furnish policymakers with new ideas. The Migration Policy Institute will officially get down to brass tacks after the holidays.
The government-appointed director of the institute, psychology professor Fotini Tsalicoglou, intends to look and think ahead. In an exclusive interview with the Athens News, she declares the doors at the institute will not only be open for legislators, but for immigrants as well.
Success based on cooperation
"The institute will be in close contact with immigrants," she says. "We'll make sure to have an open line of communication because we need their input... There is so much to do and we have to work together."
Tsalicoglou, leading a group of the country's top academics in the fields of economy and sociology, has set a tough course for this 250,000 euro think-tank. And the stakes are high. Not only is this newly-launched institute under pressure to overhaul Greece's immigration policies, but it must also win over its critics. The government's plan to create this organisation spurred widespread condemnation in parliament last May. Opposition MPs slammed the idea, arguing that the last thing Greece needed was "yet another institute". Some critics even accused the government of trying to save face by passing the hot potato issue of immigration to academics.
The members of this controversial think-tank, however, refuse to look back. According to Tsalicoglou, the institute's agenda is packed and there is no time to waste brooding over past squabbles. Following its first-ever meeting on December 4, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis urged members to "get cracking", expressing his full support.
The institute's main role will be to conduct in-depth research on immigration matters. It will also review existing legislation and make recommendations for amendments. The think-tank will liaise with policymakers in order to help the government to carve out a more efficient system of immigration and asylum. Its proposals for policy changes, however, are not binding.
"I'm not going to make any promises of sweeping reforms only to find that we can't make these happen," says Tsalicoglou, who believes in moving cautiously. "The institute is not going to solve the whole immigration problem; no one has been able to solve it so far. One thing's for sure, however: the institute will play an important role in problem-solving."
Tsalicoglou points to the major shortcomings of Greece's immigration Law 2910 (passed in May 2001), which lays out the procedures for residence and work permits, family reunion and citizenship. It's bogged down by bureaucracy and this will have to change, she says.
"Even a slight improvement of the current situation would be a great achievement," she explains. "One of the biggest problems is that [migrants] are required to submit too many documents and this is difficult. They also need employers on their side in the legalisation process and this is not always easy." As for the new residence permit format - a sticker attached to migrants' passports - Tsalicoglou agrees this is a major stumbling block. "Certainly, it's a problem for those who don't have a passport and for various reasons can't be issued one... Yes, this is definitely something we'll look into."
Migrant community leaders have tirelessly called on the government to provide a solution for the many foreigners who do not hold passports. The interior ministry (responsible for the ongoing legalisation process), however, has refused to budge on the matter.
The hefty 1,500 euro application fee for citizenship is another matter Tsalicoglou says the institute will address. "I totally agree... It's a problem. It's too expensive," she says.
Meanwhile, some of the institute's main objectives will be to promote immigrants' social and cultural integration, ensure access to education, and protect the rights of migrant residents in Greece. The think-tank will also try to raise public awareness and increase tolerance of diversity in society.
"The problem is not that [society] doesn't want foreigners, it's that it wants them under an illegal status for obvious [exploitative] reasons," says Tsalicoglou. "And this is negative for society as a whole."