The launch event of the ‘IRMA: Governing Irregular Migration: States, information pills Actors and Intermediaries’ research project took place on July 16th 2013 inAthens. The program is implemented by the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) and is funded by the Greek General Secretariat for Research & technology through the Action “ARISTEIA” for the period 2012 – 2015.
Professor Anna Triandafyllidou, the main researcher of the project, presented the scope of the research. She focused on the importance of framing and understanding the policies for the management of irregular migration, the ways in which they are perceived by the migrants themselves as well as the extent to which the policies shape and determine the realization of the migration journey.
The first session of the event focused on the presentation of the initial research findings of the IRMA research team (Dr Angeliki Dimitriadi,Ms Eda Gemi, Ms Michaela Maroufof, Ms Marina Nikolova and Ms Kleopatra Yousef,) for the three migration systems examined in the project: Albania, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Ukraine-Georgia. The session was moderated by Dr Panos Chatziprokopiou, while Professor Apostolos Papadopoulos summarized the conclusions and stressed the fact that apart from their stated objectives, control policies also have undeclared goals, but also unexpected results, and are interpreted in different ways by different social actors. He noted that the IRMA project marks a new era in research in Greece, at a time when the dialogue is strongly influenced by the public discourse and the crisis has profoundly altered the context of migration in the country.
During the second session, representatives of state institutions presented issues within their competence. Mr. Menelaos Kostaris, Police Lieutenant Colonel, Head of 1st Dept of Aliens Division, Mr. Panagiotis Nikas, Director of the First Reception Service, Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection and Assistant Prof. Ioannis Papageorgiou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, participated in the discussion, which was moderated by prof. Anna Triantafyllidou. The discussion was followed by commentary remarks by Ms. Marietta Provopoulou from the Medecins Sans Frontieres and Ms. Maria Voutsinou from the Greek Ombudsman.
The workshop highlighted that irregular migration is a major issue not only for Greece but also for Europe. Attention focused on the implementation of the Action Plan of 2010 that was revised in 2013, and the work of the Greek Police on the operation ‘Xenios Zeus’ but also the return operations by the Hellenic Police that have been systematized and intensified since 2012 as compared to earlier years. The lack of travel documents has been identified as a problem and cause for the still relatively low rates of return. At the same time, it was noted that the bureaucratic procedures and the short duration of the funding programs complicate long-term planning, especially in regards to the running of the detention centers. The immediate need for improvement of the detention conditions was noted but it was also acknowledged that there have been steps taken in the right direction, with the closure of unsuitable sites. At the same time it was announced that new detention facilities will be completed by 2014 that will meet the necessary requirements for a long-term stay, which by law can now last between 12 and 18 months.
The First Reception Service, which operates the first First Reception Center (KEPY) in Filakio in Evros, was presented. The First Reception Service was characterized as an extremely important and positive development towards the country’s compliance with European regulations and conventions, and it was noted that its operation has so far successful. Nevertheless concerns were expressed about the current shift in migration flows to the sea border, which the First Reception Service is expected to manage through the deployment of mobile units in the islands of the North Aegean.
It was highlighted that the change in flows is often sudden and unpredictable, making it difficult to set up the necessary infrastructure in specific areas on time. Extensive reference was made to the existing practice of long-term detention, which raises questions regarding its actual effectiveness and the potential measures to streamline it. It was also stressed that long-term detention has a significant impact on the physical and psychological situation of migrants and refugees detained –often under difficult circumstances-for several months.
Finally, it was noted that the reason the asylum procedure in place prior to 2012 did not work, is to a great extent due to the fact that removal procedures could not be enforced, which in practiced turned the ‘pink card’ into a type of residence permit. On the other hand, Greece has failed to address both the issue of second-generation and / or long-term resident immigrants. In this context, a process of individualized regularization was proposed as an alternative, as an in-between solution, in order to settle the issue of the second generation and / or long-term resident immigrants, given that the European institutional framework allows this possibility.