Editorial: Successful Integration of Immigrants in Europe Depends upon Work Opportunities

Athens New

By John Psaropoulos, Editor

The recent riots in France, in which immigrants of African origin played a leading role, have raised the question of whether Europe has the power - or willingness - to integrate its metics.

Integration into society is not primarily a question of culture but of work, and this is most marked in the first generation of immigrants. Apart from speaking enough Greek to ply their trade, they do not need to convert to Orthodoxy, adopt Greek cuisine or marry a Greek. In fact, they consciously avoid assimilation, preserving islands of their own culture as Greeks did in North America, northern Europe and Australia.

This is a result of the unwritten contract between a first-generation immigrant and the host society. The immigrant is essentially in search of opportunity and social mobility his own society does not provide. In Western societies, the job market is the greatest factor of opportunity and social mobility. The immigrant sometimes travels enormous distances, leaves behind all that is familial and familiar, risks his life and pays human traffickers exorbitant sums in his quest. The host society accepts him on the basis that he will fulfil a need for cheap manual labour, not on the basis that he is there to become a full member of society.

In fact, the country essentially operates as a company, merely purchasing labour. The worker plays along with this. He behaves like a corporate ladder-climber who seeks upward mobility by jumping from one company to another, selling himself up the hierarchy.

Both host and immigrant usually accept the terms of this work contract for a generation because neither one is ready to face the social complications of integration. Immigrants often plan to eventually move back home or on to an ultimate destination; natives do not see a local job advertisement as an open invitation for economic migrants to become their neighbours, business competitors and sons-in-law. While this contract holds, a society functions quite smoothly with a mild form of apartheid.

But there is a great psychological difference between the first and second generations of immigrants, and herein lies the French lesson for Greece. It is the second generation, which attends Greek schools, has Greek friends and grows up with Greek television, music and books, that will seek - and become aware of its success or failure in seeking - sameness.

Second-generation immigrants demand from their host country all those civic and cohesive properties it did not extend to their parents, such as citizenship, the right to vote and claim welfare. The parents can be asked to leave when they are no longer needed (in Greece their right to reside and to work are now enshrined in one and the same document), but their children will not suffer to be told that they were born into a mercenary arrangement. They are de facto natives because they have never known another home. The country can no longer behave as competitively towards them as a company. They demand the permanent tenure of a citizen. And yet Greece, unlike France, is loath to extend citizenship even to those born here.

The attitude of the second generation, which has none of the gratitude or pliability of the first, creates two problems. The first is material. Nations are inclusive systems. No-one is ever fired from a nationality for incompetence or indolence. On the fringes of society, the state keeps its wards in orphanages and insane asyla. To varying degrees of generosity, we Europeans support our single mothers, wounded, handicapped and unemployed through welfare. We provide socialised education and medicine.

But there is an entry requirement. As ethnic nations we are used to the idea that you do not become a member, you are born one. Second-generation immigrants are asking for entry into this highly co-operative and noncompetitive system while lacking the usual standard qualification. This stretching of finite material resources often causes jealousy. Greeks are polled as believing that immigrants are a strain on health, education and welfare.

The second problem is cultural. A born Greek has a shared sense of ethnos (as opposed to the administrative kratos). He can ultimately claim a lifelong sense of belonging in the society in which he is a failure. The second-generation immigrant cannot.

Second-generation immigrants' sense of membership even in a society that has offered them citizenship - like the French - is exacerbated by the problems of biculturalism: They are conscious of being seen as somewhat other. Yet returning to their culture of origin, they are conscious of seeing it as other. They can therefore find themselves between two worlds, neither of which they wholly belong to.

Society will never solve the problem of identity for them, but this makes it all the more important that second-generation immigrants are able to find work. Unfortunately, Europe's power to integrate and eventually assimilate its immigrants is now weakened by a weak job market. This is as true in Greece today, where unemployment stands at around 11 percent, as it is of France, which has similarly high unemployment. The difference is that Greece does not yet have a grown-up second generation of immigrants, but they will not be long in coming. The economic migrants who arrived first, after the fall of communism in 1990, now have children in the early years of secondary school. Soon they will compete with Greeks for university places, and given their above-average performance in school will end up displacing some native-born Greeks. Upon graduation, they will be eligible for public sector jobs - if they are made citizens. Those who decide not to work for the state or its companies, though, will still compete with Greeks for private-sector jobs and business opportunities.

We should appreciate that in immigrants we are often the recipients of some of the most enterprising individuals of another nation. If we judge people merely as a drain on resources, we are bound to find immigrants undesirable. If we judge people as net contributors, we should celebrate measured and legal immigration.

A recent poll conducted for the Migration Policy Institute, a government think-tank, confirms the findings of previous polls: most Greeks believe that immigrants make Greece a worse place to live in. It is not unreasonable to assume that Greece will be a much worse place in a few years' time if the second generation of immigrants is unemployed.

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by Mr. Psaropoulos in the News & Issues and especially the sections of our extensive, permanent archives at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com./contents.html
. He is the editor for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying his articles may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publication by visiting the website http://www.athensnews.gr.

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