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Historical Development of Migration | Greece |

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Historical Development of Migration

Anna Triandafyllidou

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Greece has traditionally been an emigration country. This changed in the 1970s when immigration started to outnumber emigration. However, Greece first started to create a legal framework for the management of immigration flows only in the 1990s. Yet, lacking perspectives to acquire and maintain a legal residence status continue to shape the situation of many immigrants from non-EU states until today.

Greek passport of a mother and daughter immigrating to the United States via Ellis Island in 1923. (© picture-alliance / newscom / Picture History)

Greece has traditionally been an emigration country experiencing relatively large scale emigration towards North America in the early 20th century and again in the inter-war period. Large economic migration continued after World War II towards Australia, Canada, the USA and Northern European countries, particularly Germany. During the 1950s Greece experienced a total emigration flow of 220,000 people. Emigration nearly doubled in the 1960s to 406,000, but this trend was reversed in the 1970s. Net migration started showing positive numbers in the 1970s but, until the beginning of the 1990s, the main influx was that of return migrants.

InformationBackground Information

Capital: Athens
Official language: Greek
Area: 131,957 km2
Population (2012): 10,977,193
Population density (2011): 81.75 inhabitants/km2
Natural population growth rate (2011-2012): -0.14%
Foreign population (2012): 768,122
Foreign population as a percentage of total population (2012): 6.99%
Working population (2012): 3,793,147
Unemployment rate (2012): 23.55%
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%

At the beginning of the 1990s, the size of the migratory influx in Greece grew exponentially. Most of the migrants came from neighboring countries such as Albania and Bulgaria, but the number of co-ethnic returnees from countries of the former Soviet Union was also considerable. Consequently, the migratory movements towards Greece can be linked, to a large extent, to the collapse of the socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula.

Greece did not have a legal framework to control and manage migratory inflows until the beginning of the 1990s. The first law attempting to regulate such matters was voted on in 1991 and focused mostly on stricter controls at border areas while making the legal entrance and settlement of foreigners who aimed to work in Greece nearly impossible. Despite the severity of the Greek migration law – which among other things prohibited any contact between undocumented aliens and public services – the influx continued. The large number of undocumented migrants residing and working in the country (estimated at half a million in the mid-1990s already) led to the first amnesty program, which was voted on in 1997 and implemented in 1998, while a comprehensive migration law was voted in 2001.

Since then migration has been gaining increasing importance for the country’s economy and society and has come center-stage in the last few years.

This text is part of the country profile "Interner Link: Greece".

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Anna Triandafyllidou is professor at the European University Institute in Florence and Fiesole, Italy. She is Director of the Global Governance Programme’s research area on Cultural Pluralism at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. Her main areas of research and teaching are the governance of cultural diversity, migration, and nationalism from a European and international perspective.
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