Judging by the content of the debate in Greece over the past few days, one might think that the most pressing issue facing the country ahead of the upcoming general elections is illegal immigration rather than the economy. The two coalition partners, New Democracy and PASOK, have attempted to outdo each other by trying to appear determined to tackle a matter to which the crisis has lent extra weight.
With elections probably due to take place on May 6, Greece’s two main political parties have stepped up the rhetoric. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras wants to repeal the citizenship law passed by the PASOK government in 2010. The law allows second-generation immigrants whose parents have been living in Greece legally to apply for Greek citizenship. Despite the fact that only a few thousand people, mostly ethnic Greeks, have taken advantage of the law, New Democracy insists it is a magnet for undocumented migrants who see it as an opportunity to obtain legal status in a European Union country.
“Our cities have been taken over by illegal immigrants, we have to reclaim them,” Samaras told members of his party on Thursday, as police conducted sweep operation in downtown Athens. Samaras’s comments are typical of the kind of language that is fueling the surge of populism threatening to overwhelm any constructive attempts to deal with the issue.