New cit­i­zen­ship law hinges on school ed­u­ca­tion

Bill pre­sented to Par­lia­ment sets school­ing as main pre­req­ui­site for ap­pli­ca­tions, scrap­ping place of birth as one of the cri­te­ria

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PA­PADOPOU­LOS

For­eign na­tion­als liv­ing in Greece legally, who were ei­ther born here or em­i­grated to the coun­try at a young age and have at­tended a Greek school, may soon have the right to ap­ply for Greek cit­i­zen­ship ac­cord­ing to new leg­is­la­tion drafted by the Min­istry of the In­te­rior and seen by Kathimerini be­fore it was sub­mit­ted to Par­lia­ment last week. The law is signed by In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ar­gyris Dinopou­los and, if rat­i­fied, will bridge an im­por­tant gap in the leg­is­la­tion left since the Coun­cil of State deemed a pre­vi­ous bill, Law 3838, un­con­sti­tu­tional two years ago.

The new draft law out­lines three pre­con­di­tions for for­eign na­tion­als to ap­ply for Greek cit­i­zen­ship. Ap­pli­cants will have to ful­fill at least one of the three: hav­ing com­pleted manda­tory ed­u­ca­tion at a Greek school (el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school), or the fi­nal six years of sec­ondary school (mid­dle and high), or hav­ing grad­u­ated from a Greek univer­sity or tech­ni­cal col­lege after be­ing ad­mit­ted with a Greek high school diploma.

Ap­pli­ca­tions will be sub­mit­ted to the De­cen­tral­ized Ad­min­is­tra­tion ser­vice of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity in which the for­eign na­tional is regis­tered from the age of 16 on­ward with cit­i­zen­ship com­ing into ef­fect at the age of 18.

“For us this bill brings jus­tice and rights a wrong. Other than the chil­dren that have been born here it al­lows peo­ple who have come here at a young age and stud­ied at a Greek school to ap­ply,” Nikos Odu­bi­tan, the son of Nige­rian mi­grants and a mem­ber of the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Gen­er­a­tion 2.0, told Kathimerini. “We will be equal mem­bers of so­ci­ety and will be able to plan our lives.”

The ex­act num­ber of mi­grants who will be able to be­come Greek cit­i­zens thanks to this law is not clear. The Greek Fo­rum of Mi­grants has es­ti­mated the num­ber of sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion mi­grants in Greece at around 200,000. Sources at the In­te­rior Min­istry told Kathimerini that they be­lieve some 50,000 for­eign na­tion­als will be in a po­si­tion to ap­ply once the law is en­forced, adding that an es­ti­mated 75,000 chil­dren of mi­grant par­ents are cur­rently study­ing at Greek schools.

The In­te­rior Min­istry stud­ied the decision by the Coun­cil of State – the coun­try’s high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court – which ruled that Law 3838 (also known as the Ragousis law after for­mer In­te­rior Min­is­ter Yian­nis Ragousis, who drafted it) was un­con­sti­tu­tional on the grounds that it deemed mi­grants who had at­tended six years of school rather than the manda­tory ed­u­ca­tional pe­riod as el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship. That law also granted cit­i­zen­ship to chil­dren born in Greece to mi­grant par­ents who had lived in the coun­try legally for a to­tal of five con­sec­u­tive years or more. The new draft law has amended the clause re­lat­ing to ed­u­ca­tion and made it spe­cific to the manda­tory pe­riod of school­ing, while birth­place has been scrapped as a cri­te­rion.

Ac­cord­ing to Odu­bi­tan, the Ragousis law granted cit­i­zen­ship to mi­nors more eas­ily and rightly so, but it pre­sented sev­eral prob­lems for adults. The red tape in­volved, he said, dis­cour­aged a lot of adult sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion mi­grants from sub­mit­ting their ap­pli­ca­tions be­fore the law was an­nulled by the Coun­cil of State. In other cases, Odu­bi­tan added, civil ser­vants tasked with pro­cess­ing ap­pli­ca­tions would put mi­grants off from sub­mit­ting their pa­per­work by telling them that the law was go­ing to be an­nulled.

Ser­gios Kagiema, aged 27, is among the hun­dreds of mi­grants left in limbo after the court’s decision last year.

“The whole pa­per is­sue has left me ex­hausted and I just want it to be over. The state treats me like a mi­grant, as though I came from another coun­try and wasn’t born here,” he told Kathimerini. “When I heard that the law had been put on hold and was then an­nulled I thought that so much run­ning around for the pa­pers had gone to waste. I didn’t know what the fu­ture held, whether the law would be scrapped for­ever or whether it would be made stricter, more mer­ci­less.”

Kagiema knows no coun­try other than Greece. He was born in Gyzi, Athens, mov­ing with his fam­ily to Exarchia and then to Kypseli, all in the city cen­ter.

His fa­ther came from Congo to study in Greece. His mother em­i­grated from the same African coun­try in the 1970s at the age of 13, an or­phan who was work­ing as a house­keeper for a fam­ily of Greeks.

“I feel Greek but un­for­tu­nately I’m not,” Kagiema said. “There is this bar­rier, this fence, and it re­mains to be seen whether the new law will knock it down or at least lower it.”

As a child of im­mi­grants Kagiema has known since he was a young age never to leave the house with­out his pass­port, say­ing that he has of­ten been stopped by po­lice for a “tar­geted check” dur­ing his out­ings.

“They see that you stand out from your friends,” he said, re­mem­ber­ing sit­u­a­tions where he was the vic­tim of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, such as one time when he was go­ing to a soc­cer match with his friends and nearly ended up at the Aliens Bureau for an iden­tity check, or another time when he was re­turn­ing from hol­i­days on Crete and a ferry em­ployee took him for an un­doc­u­mented mi­grant.

Kagiema re­cently grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Pi­raeus, where he stud­ied dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. He could have grad­u­ated on time, “like a nor­mal per­son,” but de­cided to stretch the time out as he had to pay fewer fees and wait less time to have his res­i­dence per­mit re­newed when he was regis­tered as a stu­dent. His younger brother is cur­rently at univer­sity and is fol­low­ing the same tac­tics.

Juela Sule­j­manaj is 20 years old and col­lects the pa­pers she needs to ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship ev­ery time she be­lieves it might be pos­si­ble.

She was born in Be­rat, Al­ba­nia, and came to Greece with her par­ents when she was 9.

“It was tough when

I first came.

I didn’t speak the lan­guage and took pri­vate lessons at first so I could fit in. I over­came all that even­tu­ally and be­came fully in­te­grated,” she said. She is cur­rently do­ing Euro­pean stud­ies at Pan­teion Univer­sity in Athens and wants to do a master’s in another Euro­pean Union coun­try.

“I had tried to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion un­der the Ragousis law but then it was can­celed and I was left hang­ing,” she said. “What the Greek gov­ern­ment is try­ing to do now is a very im­por­tant step. We are en­ti­tled to civil rights and eas­ier ac­cess to em­ploy­ment. To join the civil ser­vice, for ex­am­ple, you need to be a cit­i­zen.”

Ac­cord­ing to the new draft law, Sule­j­manaj and Kagiema can be­come Greek cit­i­zens as they have been ed­u­cated in the coun­try’s school sys­tem.

How­ever, said Kagiema, “be­ing Greek on pa­per doesn’t mean any­thing un­less the peo­ple also embrace you.” He says that he has of­ten seen Greeks ex­press­ing sur­prise when he speaks the lan­guage flu­ently. A fel­low stu­dent had also ad­vised him not to men­tion that he is of Con­golese ori­gin when filling in job ap­pli­ca­tions.

“I want to feel like a part of this coun­try, to be treated the same as Greek cit­i­zens,” he said. “Cit­i­zen­ship makes you want to con­trib­ute, to join forces with oth­ers and to give it your best.”

Nikos Odu­bi­tan is the son of Nige­rian mi­grants and a mem­ber of the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Gen­er­a­tion 2.0.

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