Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2011 national census, 480,851 Albanian citizens were permanently resident in the country, though this figure likely excludes significant numbers of undocumented Albanian migrants. Little is known of this latter group, since most of them work informally in construction, farming and domestic work. Conflict between Greece and Albania, particularly over the Greek minority in Albania, has led to this group being subject to reprisals by the Greek government and to increasing popular hostility, fuelled by negative media stereotypes of Albanians.
Large numbers of immigrants began to arrive in Greece from neighbouring Albania in the late twentieth century. In 1993, 20,000 Albanians were deported in one week in retaliation for Albania’s deportation of a Greek Orthodox priest. The Albanian authorities complained that those expelled were badly beaten and that their belongings were destroyed. In 1994, a further 115,000 Albanians were deported over a six-month period, in response to the trial in Albania of members of the Greek minority organization Omonia. Greek landlords and employers were encouraged to report Albanians to the police. An attempt to reduce this tension was made in April 1995, when the Greek government agreed to legalize Albanian migrants with identity documents.
In August 2005 a new immigration law was passed that provides for legalization of undocumented migrants who could prove by a visa stamp or possession of a tax roll number that they entered the country before 31 December 2004. However, immigrants and human rights organizations complained that only a small proportion of eligible migrants had been successfully legalized as many immigrants did not meet the qualification of legal entry into the country or due to stringent application requirements.
In the ensuing years, despite some signs of a reduction in discrimination by the wider society, immigrants continued to accuse police of physical, verbal and other mistreatment. They also reported the confiscation and destruction of personal documents, particularly during police sweeps to apprehend undocumented immigrants. The media blamed Albanians and immigrants for a reported rise in crime in recent years.
While Albanians still make up the majority of Greece’s migrant population, many have been forced to return to Albania in the wake of the protracted economic recession, which has hit many of the sectors such as construction that provided large numbers of Albanian workers with employment. In many cases, this has included families with children who have spent most or all of their lives in Greece and have little knowledge of life in Albania.
Updated September 2018