Events

Integration Through Education: Migrant Workers In Greece

March 29, 2006 // 10:00am11:00am

Remarks given by the Minister

Social Integration of Migrants - European and Greek Experience- Education Strategies

The challenge facing Europe, and indeed the West at large, in regard to the gradual integration of third-country nationals, and more specifically Muslim populations, has after 9 / 11 taken on the character of an urgent task. Large gatherings of migrants, especially Muslims, is a relatively recent phenomenon in most North-Western countries of the European Union going back to the 1950s and 1960s' mass waves of immigrants reaching Europe from France and the UK's former colonies. But the existence of indigenous Muslim communities is a reality in the Balkans that goes back centuries setting the Balkan experience of ethnic, religious and cultural co-existence apart from the Western European and North American one. However, an array of common concerns is shared by both European geo-political spaces and the US, and it is imperative that a broad Euro-Atlantic political consensus be established in order to counter the negative side-effects of a de-regulated influx of migrants and, most of all, the sinister threat of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The Greek experience is unique in the sense that its more topical-historical features blend with the more global ones to the degree that the country is now fully integrated into the EU and all transatlantic fora. Greek Christian populations have had to co-habit a geopolitical arena where symbiosis with Muslims was unavoidable. There is a wealth of historical experience here, which, I believe, could be communicated with beneficial effects especially given the fact that the ethnic-religious tensions observed in other European countries have been contained in Greece without residues of violence.

At both national and EU level, the case is building up for better regulation of immigration, a stronger pace of social integration of migrants, with particular emphasis on Muslim populations, and an informed probing into the roots and causes of Islamic extremism that is absolutely necessary given the porous character of European borders and the increased mobility of its citizens. The urgency of the matter becomes more poignant when one realises that the option of numerically curbing immigration is not a viable one given the aging of the European population and its disturbingly declining rates. A holistic spectrum of policies, then, that will hopefully resolve the dilemma between multiculturalism and full assimilation of migrants into some form of mutually acceptable, and viable, integration must be put into immediate effect.

The European Experience—Policies at both national and trans-national level

At European level, policies aiming at migrants' gradual political acculturation and intercultural mediation have been deployed in synergy with broader socio-economic measures. There is consensus concerning the need to tackle exclusion mechanisms emerging in labor markets in respect of unskilled workers, and in general the trend is to address both the economic and cultural dimensions inherent in the welfare situation of migrants. Greece has chosen to embed its immigration policies within this cultural-economic rationale and contribute to the dismantling of the lingering assumption that identities are inherently antagonistic. The difficulty, however, in cementing a homogeneous approach to immigration at European level lies in Europe's plurality of national situations and the differences between countries' migratory backgrounds. But efforts have been stepped up to secure social and economic responses to migrants' cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.

There is now a Common Agenda for Integration and an array of Common Basic Principles serving as the platform upon which to harmonize national and trans-national policies. In summary terms, the principles mandate the deployment of innovative approaches to prevent labor market discrimination, the embedment of integration policies into the Member States' National Reform Programs that are submitted in the context of the renewed Lisbon Agenda, the improvement of "filtering" procedures concerning migrants' qualifications (the European Qualifications Framework is the ideal framework here), the offer of support in relation to the training capacities of small companies and business organizations in sectors of the economy taking on migrants, and the general facilitation of migrant entrepreneurship. All these measures apply to migrant Muslim ethnic groups as well. However, given the cultural and religious intransigence of considerable segments of the Muslim community in Europe (the German and French examples are particularly emblematic here) a set of measures with overt educational and socio-cultural orientation are being elaborated on and put to effect with the explicit aim to secure a satisfactory degree of civic integration. Education is, of course, the key, and therefore civic orientation courses are deemed essential as well as programs helping migrants to acquire basic knowledge of the language, history, institutions, socio-economic features and fundamental European values of the host society and Europe at large. At national level, and this definitely applies to Greece, school curricula are designed to reflect diversity whereas the specific problems of young immigrants (especially of Muslim descent) are being tackled to prevent underachievement and early school-leaving. Addressing migrant youth delinquency is also a serious concern. At EU level there is provision for the education of third-country nationals within the Education and Training 2010 Program, that is, the education component of the ambitious Lisbon Strategy. The latter is Europe's foremost policy platform encompassing a plethora of coordinated strategies and practices seeking to modernize Europe's economy, social welfare and education systems.

The participation of Muslim (and other) immigrants in the democratic process and the formulation of policies at the local level are also necessary to stave off the effects of social exclusion that feed into extremism, and instill the spirit of social participation and collective responsibility. A number of awareness-raising initiatives, such as the Inter-cultural Dialogue (2008), coupled with more economically oriented ones merge the social and economic dimensions of the situation into a coherent and holistic EU approach.

Overall, the success of Europe's integration policies hinges on an enriched concept of citizenship that has de facto moved from the stage of belonging in an ethnically and culturally homogeneous nation-state to the reality of participating in inalienable universal human and political rights that guarantee equal access to the opportunities opened up by democracy.

The Greek experience with migrants: Muslim minority—Inter-cultural strategies

The Greek experience with third-country migrants is relatively short. The initial influx of Balkan migrants in the early 1990s has been succeeded by a wider wave of ethnic groups seeking refuge mainly for economic reasons. The Hellenic State has responded by adopting a set of measures relevant at the local sphere and in harmony with the European rationale. There are currently around 130000 immigrant students attending Greek schools, a considerable number of intercultural educational establishments and hundreds of reception classes offering intensive teaching. The Immigrant Students' Education Programme, a joint Greek-European project, offers invaluable aid to these students. Now, I would not want to tire you by enumerating particular measures and practices. The diversity of actions exceeds the scope of this speech. What I wish to lay emphasis on is the determination of the Hellenic Republic to exhaust its absorptive capacity in order to accommodate third-country nationals who desire to integrate into the Greek society and bind themselves in a social contract that will hopefully secure the social prospects and prosperity of the greatest possible number without straining overly the social fabric.

There is, however, another specifically Greek experience that I wish to share with you in the context of a broader unease over the polarisation of political and cultural tensions between West and East. And that is the Greek experience with Muslim populations. It is, admittedly, historically distinct yet in the present conjuncture the global dimensions of the situation seep into it. Greece is a geo-political nodal point and, in a way, a political and cultural buffer zone at the crossroads of West and East. Inevitably, social interaction with Muslims has historically ranged from overt conflict to peaceful symbiosis. The historical contexts are known and there is no need to rehearse them here. The Hellenic State's responses to the challenge contribute, however, to a wealth of historical experience that merits exploring if a coherent approach at EU level is to be adopted, and could arguably be seen as a set of good practices that offer themselves to the constructive scrutiny of our allies and partners.

The status of the Muslim minority in Thrace has been determined on the basis of the Lausanne Treaty (1923). The Hellenic Republic has approached the issue in the spirit of respect for multiculturalism and these communities have been allowed to retain the religious, cultural and language traits that define them as such. In regard to education, a special quota (0.5%) for the admission of the Muslim minority students in Higher Education has been instituted, to give an example of a series of affirmative actions with both a distinctly Greek character and a European orientation. Greek teachers adhering to the Muslim faith carry out Turkish-speaking programs in schools especially designed for the minority whereas the Muslim Students' Education Program, which is co-funded by the Hellenic State and the European Union, seeks to address problems peculiar to the minority students and improve their overall performance. School curricula have been upgraded and culturally adjusted and pioneering well-informed textbooks have been designed to promote the cause of integration while respecting the cultural-religious identity of Muslim students. There is profound concern over the sensitive issue of dropping-out which is significantly high among these communities. Various policies have been deployed to combat the phenomenon and foster a sense of belonging and social participation. Additionally, the Support Centers for the Muslim Students' Education offer lessons in Greek, counseling for teachers, ICT courses and a plethora of social activities. Symbiosis is possible, but it must be said that it takes mutual respect and adherence to fundamental values of democracy and human rights to secure it.

In conclusion, integration is a process that necessitates mutual adaptation to norms, and it is the primary responsibility of host states to guarantee the participation of immigrants into civic institutions and life. Nevertheless, the influx of Muslim and other populations into Europe must be proportional to the host countries and Europe's absorption capacity and cannot, therefore, be exempt from regulation. Illegal immigration must be curbed to avoid a situation where social and material destitution feed into organized crime and are channeled into political-religious extremism. We must ensure that there will be an understanding by immigrants of the nature of the society which they are joining. Immigrants, Muslim or not, have a responsibility towards the societies that offer them economic and/or political asylum and must respect the norms and values by which these societies abide. The cultural inflexibility of several Muslim groups is detrimental to the interests of the majority of immigrants. The right to respect of one's alterity presupposes the obligation to converge with the cultural ethos of the society that offers political, social and economic protection. Immigrants are bound by the same social contract that binds all other citizens. It takes social responsibility and synergy between all parties concerned to secure the desired political and social equilibrium and strike a balance between the seemingly antagonistic prerogatives of multiculturalism and assimilation.

 

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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