Migration to Greece has continued to last, despite the economic crisis, though has decreased in comparison to previous years (Malkoutzis 2011, p. 1). The migration balance is currently negative in total, however, meaning that the number of emigrants exceeds that of immigrants.

Protest against racism and fascism in Athens in November 2012. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Immigraton and Emigration Statistics

According to data from the Greek Institute for Statistics, ELSTAT, 110,823 people immigrated to Greece in 2011 (60,453 of Greek nationality, 31,229 third country citizens and 19,141 EU-citizens). In the same period, 125,948 people left Greece (62,961 of Greek nationality, 37,083 third country citizens and 25,940 EU-citizens), 5% (+5,999) more than in 2010. The migration balance, at -15,161, was negative (2010: -915) (EL.STAT 2013; EL.STAT 2012c). As of January 1, 2012, according to ELSTAT estimates, 975,374 foreign citizens are living in Greece, the majority of whom are third country citizens (824,220) (EL.STAT 2013). [1] Almost half of the immigrants do not possess a legal residence status (Kasimis 2012).

Immigration and emigration in 2011 (by citizenship)
Greek citizens60.45362.961-2.508
Citizens of other EU states19.14125.940-6.799
Citizens of third countries31.22937.083-5.854
Source: El.STAT

Total population of Greece in 2011 (by citizenship)
Greek citizens10.314.693
Citizens of other EU states151.154
Citizens of third countries824.220
Total population11.290.067
Source: El.STAT

Irregular Immigration

The number of residency permits has decreased since the beginning of the crisis. While in 2009 the total amount of residency permits issued stood at 602,797, in 2010 it went down to 553,916, and in 2011 dropped down to only 447,658. This downward tendency points not so much to a decreasing immigration as to a trend toward de-legalization. Greece in particular has been heavily hit by the debt and financial crisis, the effects of which have been seen since the end of 2008. Against this background fewer legal residency permits are being exhibited. Migrants can therefore often only fall back on irregular immigration channels or a non-authorized stay. According to a Greek employee survey, in the fourth quarter of 2011 almost 60% of immigrants (both regular and irregular) came from Albania (449,706), 6% (47,348) from Bulgaria and 5% (40,620) from Romania (Triandafyllidou 2012a, p. 5-13). Greece has in the meantime become a transit country for many migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East (Sotiropoulos 2012; Kasimis 2012, p. 3). The European border patrol agency, FRONTEX, states that 64% of all irregular migrants in the EU in the first quarter of 2012 entered EU territory by illegal entry through Greece (RIN 2012).

Irregular immigration has been strengthened even more as a result of the Arab Spring (European Commission 2012, p. 8; Triandafyllidou/Ambrosini 2011). Measures like “Operation Xenios Zeus” and the erection of a 12.5 kilometer long wall on the Greek-Turkish border are supposed to counteract irregular immigration (Ekathimerini 2012a). Since the beginning of August, 2012, under the name “Operation Xenios Zeus”, Greece’s minister of citizen security, Niko Dendias, has led police raids against unwanted foreigners in Greater Athens and in the Evros Region near the Turkish border. This “cleansing” targeted at refugees has led to the arrests of thousands of unwanted foreigners and mass deportation of migrants and asylum seekers to their countries of origin. The often violent action of the Greek police and the inhuman conditions in the reception camps have been strongly criticized by human rights organizations (Pro Asyl 2012).

Emigration of Greek Citizens

In view of the precarious economic and job market situation, the national unemployment rate rose in the second quarter of 2012 to 23.6%. In the age group of under-25 year olds unemployment stood at 53.9% (EL.STAT 2012a; EL.STAT 2012b, p. 3). One of the reactions to this situation was the decision to emigrate from Greece, which can scarcely be documented due to missing data. Traditional emigration destinations have registered a moderate increase in Greek citizens. According to data from Greek migration expert, Anna Triandafyllidou, the Greek population in the Netherlands grew from 2011 to 2012 by about 20% to 10,100 people. In Great Britain the number of Greek citizens living there in this time period also grew by 20% (Triandafyllidou 2012a, p. 23f.). In the first half of 2011 8,890 Greeks were drawn to Germany, doubling in the first half of the year 2012 to 16,571 (Triandafyllidou 2012b). [2] Newspaper reports point to emigration movements to Australia (2,500 in 2011), Canada and the United States (The Guardian 2011). The Greek emigrants are predominantly young, highly qualified and trained in foreign languages (Daily Kos 2011; GR Reporter 2012; New York Times 2012). Despite the climb in emigration numbers, Professor Triandafyllidou considers the media coverage about this phenomenon to be exaggerated because most of the country’s residents have stayed in the country in spite of the economic crisis (Triandafyllidou 2012/email correspondence; Daily Kos 2011; Ekathimerini 2012; GR Reporter 2012). Of those foreigners living in Greece, it has mainly been the Albanians who have returned to their home country (Triandafyllidou 2012a, p. 2; Kasimis 2012, p. 7).

Growing Xenophobia

The political and public discourse is characterized by a growing intolerance towards migrants, with xenophobia increasing at an alarming rate (Triandafyllidou 2012a, p. 28f). According to UNHCR Greece, racially motivated acts of violence have become in the meantime almost the order of the day. In the course of the year 2012 these acts of violence have increased immensely (UNHCR 2012). UNHCR has reported 87 cases of racist violence alone between January and September 2012 (Netzwerk Migration in Europa 2012). According to the Racist Violence Recording Network, created in 2011, the estimated number of unknown cases may be significantly higher (UNHCR 2012).

Translation into English: Jocelyn Storm


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This text is part of the policy brief on "Does the Crisis Make People Move?".
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Migration expert, Anna Triandafyllidou, assumes in her estimations that about 840,000 (12-1-2011) third country citizens live in Greece, based upon 447,658 regular (legal) issued residency permits and 391,000 irregular migrants, excluding co-ethnicities (Pontic Greeks and Greek-Albanians) (Triandafyllidou 2012a, p. 7f.).
According to data from the German Federal Statistical Office, the number of Greek immigrants in the first half of 2012 increased by 78% (+6,900 people) in comparison to the first six months of the previous year (Destatis 2012).

Feline Engling Cardoso

About the author

Feline Engling Cardoso

Feline Engling Cardoso is research fellow at Trutz Haase Social and Economic Consultants. Her research interests include migration movements from and to Southern Europe, migration and security policies, and social policies. Email: feline.engling@googlemail.com

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