A November 19 bill tabled by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos includes a provision for longterm residence permits to be given to children of immigrants born in Greece when they turn 18.
However, Helen Faluyi, a child of Nigerian migrants, is convinced this is not enough. She discovered the difference between having Greek citizenship and having foreign status this summer. The 16-year-old engineering student describes a police station nightmare, from which only the Nigerian ambassador was able to rescue her.
She and a friend were exiting a train station when inspectors stopped them. Because they had tossed their tickets after leaving the train, they were retained at the police station for three hours in a smoky room with 15 men. Faluyi notes that the police didn't believe they were minors and - to add insult to injury - they didn't believe they were actually the people on their passports, even when family members came to the police station. It took embassy involvement to verify their identity.
The teenager is convinced that things would be different if she had Greek papers. "If I were a Greek citizen, they'd say, 'Oh, you don't have a ticket. Next time, have your ticket.'"
Greece-born Faluyi, together with 19 other young people, primarily of African origin, are trying to change things. In May they formed an offshoot of the group Greek Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE). Their "We Have One Dream" campaign has included rallies and signature gathering for a petition asking that all children born here be granted Greek citizenship at age 18 and that those who come to Greece at a young age be granted longterm residence permits.
Their YRE petition states: "The worst part is that as soon as we turn 18, we have to obtain a residence permit with exactly the same requirements as all migrants. Suddenly we are considered 'foreigners' in the country where we were born and raised."
'We are not alone'
The teens, many of whom have never been to their parents' country, gathered in a Kolliatsou Square office days before a big event they're planning for November 29 at the Kypseli Municipal Market, with screenings, music and talks.
Ioanna Okoundigie, a college student, who is Faluyi's cousin, explains that she too has gathered signatures from Greek citizens, including her teachers and godfather. She adds: "We are trying to tell the government that we are not alone fighting this. There are people who believe in us, who believe this is right."
Though Okoundigie calls the new law "a start, a beginning", she thinks it is "a little bit stingy". Her cousin Faluyi says they've approached the government but that "they don't seem to understand us, to give us our rights … I identify Greece as my country, but they don't look at me like that".
Albania-born teenager Aldri Milo, who came to Greece with his parents 11 years ago, echoes their dissatisfaction with police treatment and bureaucracy. A trained electrician and an aspiring hip-hop musician, he hopes their activism will mean "that someone will hear us".
Just a few blocks away from the Patissia neighbourhood YRE office, another group of teens is also rallying for citizenship.
In preparation for a December 6 celebration of 23 years of the Unity of Filipino Migrant Workers in Greece (KASAPI-Hellas) at the Munting Nayon (Little Village) school, which many of them attended before entering the Greek school system, teenagers are practising a traditional Filipino bamboo stick dance, as well as a Greek syrtaki.
They practise the steps, talk on their cell phones and joke around. But Joe Valencia, the president of KASAPI, explains that the teens, who formed KASAPI Youth this past summer, are on a mission. They also started a petition asking for citizenship at 18, which they aim to present to all the political parties.
Valencia says Pavlopoulos' proposed legislation is "just one step, but it is not enough". He adds, "Real integration in Greek society would be citizenship."
The longtime activist fears the creation of a ghetto of second-generation Filipinos, who are locked in the uncertainty of renewing their permit every few years rather than voting and having the right to take part in "the political, social and economic life of the country".
He adds: "The children born in Greece, who grew up in Greece, deserve the citizenship of the country where they saw the first light of day."
Many have never been to the Philippines. Valencia thinks the struggle may take some time, judging from the decade it took KASAPI - one of the first migrant organisations in Greece - to make gains in their legalisation efforts.
At another spot in the Patission vicinity, Fatu Janneh, the president of the Sierra Leone Women's Union, watches youngsters (many of them second-generation migrants) at the organisation's daycare centre, but she is not too optimistic.
As her 16-year-old son approaches adulthood, Janneh notes: "I don't think these people are ready to give citizenship. They are just fooling us. " She is disappointed with the lack of results from the group's strike actions last year in support of their children's rights.
With the experience of the older generation's activism and their own more intimate knowledge of Greek culture, it remains to be seen if the migrant teens' citizenship dreams will come true anytime soon.
YRE's Greek citizenship party will be held on November 29 at the Kypseli Municipal Market at 8.30pm.
For information, ring 210-228-3019 or visit www.wehaveonedream.blogspot.com
THE NEW PROPOSED BILL:
A FEW paragraphs in a general interior ministry draft bill could affect the lives of non-Greeks who have been legally residing in Greece for a decade, as well as non-nationals born in Greece.
Article 41 of the bill calls for children of immigrants born in Greece to be eligible for a longterm residence permit. It states: "Third-country citizens' children, who were born in and live in Greece and whose parents continue to legally reside in the country, after their 18th birthday and after they have completed their primary and secondary education, can obtain, with a decision of the general secretary of the corresponding region, the status of longterm resident..."
Lawyer Vasilis Papastergiou, of the Legal Team for the Rights of Refugees and Immigrants, says the changes are "good, but only concern a few people. They could be more daring". Currently, he notes, 18-year-olds have to renew their residence permit every two years, which requires proof of a job and insurance. He says the bigger problem is the need for a legalisation drive, explaining: "If the child finishes school but one or both parents is illegal, it doesn't change things much."
Article 40 proposes that those who have had a residence permit for 10 years or more be eligible for a 10-year residence permit. Alexandros Zavos, head of the government's Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO), says that the current draft legislation is a solution to immediate issues migrants face. Zavos agrees that, in the short term, the draft bill doesn't apply to many people because mass immigration to Greece only dates to the 1990s. However, he points out that it will apply to perhaps 90,000 children who are soon to come of age. He thinks there should be optional Greek citizenship at 18 for children of migrants who were born and have grown up legally in Greece.
Putting it in a European context, Zavos says: "Almost no country in Europe gives automatic citizenship to a child of immigrants born in the country." However, according to him, most countries do grant optional citizenship to those who were born and have resided legally in the same country for their first 18 years.
He points out that this year 5,000 non-Greeks took Greek citizenship oaths after following a procedure that includes language and culture tests. This is the current option for second-generation migrants to acquire citizenship.
A decision is expected on the legislation in the next few weeks.