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The spectacular opening ceremony of the twenty-eighth Olympiad in Athens captured the imagination of the world with its glitter, originality, and depth. One of its key attractions included turning the Olympic stadium in to an instant lake and featured a diachronic stream of navigators sailing to and from mainland Greece and the numerous isles through the ages. Behind this phantasmagoric staging lay the rich history of an ancient civilization whose content was undoubtedly Hellenic in origin but universal in content and in feeling. The underlying theme was that the "soft underbelly" of Europe was and remains the crossroads of the world whose shores not only attracted entrepreneurs and adventurers from every corner of the known world but served as launching pad for numerous others who sailed and settled in distant parts of the world, carrying with them the universal and timeless values and precepts of Hellenic civilization.

The event captured the trajectory of Greece's experience with migration, particularly in the past four to five centuries. For most of its history since achieving independence from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1820s, the country has been a source of migrant workers. It is only since the early 1990s that modern Greece became the recipient of immigration. This change from a country of emigration to a country of significant immigration followed developments in its economy. For a small country of less than 11 million people, unaccustomed to receiving large groups of immigrants, the experience has had (and continues to have) profound economic, social, and security [End Page 100] implications. In the following pages we profile the nature and extent of recent migration into Greece and analyze its economic, social, and national security implications. Besides drawing conclusions, in the final section we deal with how the Greek state has responded to the immigration problem. But a brief and cursory overview of Greek experience with population movements is a beneficial beginning.

Emigration: Brief Background

The small, rocky, and resource-poor country could barely feed its unskilled and uneducated population. Thousands of Greek men fled for Europe, Russia, and elsewhere in search of employment. Emigration to the United States came much later, with the first wave of destitute immigrants reaching the shores of the Americas in the 1890s. Greeks from Greece proper were also joined by thousands of their compatriots residing in "unredeemed" territories. From 1850 to 1908, for example, about eight hundred thousand able- bodied men and their dependents took the road to migration.

The Balkan War (1912-3), which resulted in more than doubling Greece's territory, followed by the influx of better educated and more cosmopolitan Greeks from Asia Minor in the 1920s, lay the foundations of a gradual improvement in the country's economic fortunes.1 But the advent of World War II and the destructive civil war (1946-9) that followed leveled whatever progress had been made. Thousands of people were forced to emigrate, further swelling the ranks of Greek migrant workers abroad. Postwar Greece experienced three emigration/migration movements that flowed in and out of the country. From 1945 to 1973, nearly 1 million Greeks moved to the United States, Canada, Australia, West Germany, and other European and even Latin American countries. Greeks emigrated in order to escape unemployment, poverty, and political repression. In Russell King's words, the Greek migrants "functioned in the same way as a 'reserve army of labor' for Northern Europe's industries and labor needs in other low status employment sectors."2 [End Page 101]

Following more than two decades of substantial economic growth, Greece's economy began to show signs of strength. Foreign aid and the remittances of sailors and Greeks living abroad contributed to this economic upturn. As a result, the country experienced some repatriation in the 1970s and 1980s. From 1974 to 1985, for instance, approximately half of those that had emigrated in the previous decades returned. Labor saturation in West Germany and other Northern European countries was partially responsible for this development. But by the mid-1980s this trend came to a halt, as did the need to leave...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1935
Print ISSN
1047-4552
Pages
pp. 100-114
Launched on MUSE
2005-01-11
Open Access
No
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