The hunger strikers are in danger
A “compassionate” politician turns cynical prime-minister, while his government ignores even the EU legislation it uses as a pretext to deny migrants’ regularization
1. THE SITUATION OF THE HUNGER STRIKERS ON FEBRUARY 24, 2011
The 300 migrant workers have been abstaining from food for 31 days now, since the 25th of January. In Athens and Thessaloniki, we witness fainting episodes all the time, everyday, all day long. More and more often, the situation of some becomes extremely critical, and the strikers are taken to public hospitals.
Big young men, who for years have worked on farms and on building sites all over Greece, fathers and husbands, are now weighing 44 and 45 kilograms. They can hardly stand up. Three days ago already, the medical health team, who has been on the side of the hunger strikers from day one, spoke clearly: The strikers “have entered a phase where they are facing irreversible damage to their health”. They are in danger. In common terminology, that means that their vital organs will be harmed irreversibly, their memory and eyesight will be seriously under threat.
2. THE HUNGER STRIKERS’ SPECIFIC DEMANDS
And why are they risking their lives? Is it because the 300 migrant workers somehow decided that they don’t fancy Greek souvlaki any more? No, they are putting their own lives in danger because they have repeated their arguments one too many times. After years of being derided and reproached, after years of working for no pay, after years of torture, incarceration, beatings and humiliation, after years of official non-existence, right now they are asking for a very specific thing: They are asking for their existence to be recognized. They want legalization. They say: For us, legalisation is neither a generic nor an abstract slogan.
We demand the issuing – since we are entitled to it – of a proper residence and labor permit to us, the 300 hunger strikers, who demand what should be a given for everyone by putting our lives on the line
As well as:
- that residence permits are no longer connected to work credits
- that all who lost their permits because of the above reason are legalised again
- the vindication of everyone whose application was rejected in 2005, after their application submission had been accepted and after they were forced to pay thousands of euros each
- the establishment of a permanent and open procedure for complete legalisation, which will process applications constantly
-the abandonment of any idea of criminalising any of our comrades in solidarity with us, who have been called as suspects of committing criminal acts by the authorities
3. THE MINISTER’S RESPONSE TODAY and the prime-minister’s views in 2008
The above demands were made public on the 21st of February. Three days later, what is the response of the government?
Minister of the Interior Mr. Ragousis announced to the newspapers today that the legalization of the hunger strikers would “put Greece in great danger”, especially now the country is facing “the possibility of a migrant wave from North Africa”. Echoing the deeply racist, and by now stereotypically populist rhetoric, he added: “Could Greece endure that?” He even repeated that the government would be ready to grant them “tolerance status”, meaning a six-month permit given for exceptional reasons of health, family condition or other obstacles to deportation. In other words, he is saying that the government might allow for some of the hunger strikers to be officially tolerated for a short period of time, and probably feels the strikers should be negotiating his offer!
Just two years ago, in November 2008, when 15 migrants were on hunger strike in Chania, Crete, George Papandreou, then the leader of the oppositional PASOK Party, now Mr. Ragousis’ and Greece’s Prime Minister, was writing on his blog, for all voters to read: “We should respect the axiomatic truth that it is not easy to be a refugee and an immigrant. Our handling of the issue should begin by seeing every person as an equal. We relate to every human being as a fellow citizen of the world and we want all to have equal rights, we recognize the right to a peaceful coexistence, to respect, to dignity, to humane behavior. (…) There are significant practical and institutional problems, as well as problems of understanding, mentality, reception of immigrants, and acceptance of them. The best thing that could be done, that could contribute towards overcoming this problematic picture, would the integration of immigrants into society.”
This turn towards cynicism is not merely a contradiction caused by Realpolitik concerns, it seems to be the result of a brain transplantation, and an unsuccessful one at that.
Another one of the favourite government phrases, which the Minister repeated today, is that “migration is a European problem” and speaking about EU legislation showed that he has a few gaps in his information apparatus…
4. IS THE GOVERNMENT NOT UP-TO-DATE WITH EUROPEAN LEGISLATION?
Today, the 24th of February 2011, the Minster of the Interior Yannis Ragousis added that “he excludes the possibility of an illegal mass regularization”, echoing the Minister of Citizens’ Protection (Public Order) Christos Papoutsis, who, on the 8th of February had announced in the parliamentary committee for issues of migration that “the demand for mass, general regularization, cannot be substantiated, it is unheard of and not allowed in the European Union”…On the 28th of January, the Deputy Minister of Labor Anna Dalara had said: “in any case, mass regularizations are against the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum”.
However, all three government politicians seem to be dangerously misinformed. Indeed, on the15th of October 2008, EU heads of state and government endorsed the ‘European Pact on Immigration and Asylum’. However hideous the European Pact was, “a ban on the mass regularization of illegal immigrants had to be dropped during negotiations in Cannes (July 2008), in order to win the necessary support of the Spanish government” http://www.euractiv.com/en/socialeurope/european-pact-immigration-asylum/article-175489
In the last two years, there have been two cases, that of Italy and of Belgium, where EU governments granted hundreds of thousands of permits at once:
1. In Italy, despite strong rhetoric against irregular migrants, the government had to launch a regularization procedure in 2009. By July 2010, around 200.000 permits were granted.
2. On the 20th of July 2009, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy released details of the federal government’s agreement on regularizing illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants who had lived in Belgium for at least five years were able to apply to regularize their situation between 15 September and 15 December 2009. Around 50.000 permits were granted.
The move was not called a “mass regularization”, according to government officials.
The new 2009 EU multi-annual program in the area of Justice and Home Affairs for the years 2010-2014, known as the Stockholm program, does not prohibit large-scale regularizations of migrants, and only refers to the need to improve the exchange of information on regularizations at the national level.
So who is the Greek government kidding?
5. VICTORY TO THE HUNGER STRIKE – VICTORY TO LIFE
The hunger strike of the 300 migrant workers in Greece is now at a very critical turn. The hunger strikers are in danger. We cannot tolerate any more lies. The demands of the hunger strikers are just. As the Forum of Migrants in Crete have written: “They have turned life into a cheap commodity. We shall not allow anyone make life cheaper. We shall make life priceless so that death becomes unthinkable. Victory to the hunger strike, victory to life”.