Lina Venturas is Professor of History and Sociology of Migration at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. She has studied history and sociology in France and Belgium. Using historical and sociological approaches her current research focuses on migrations, diaspora, sending states’ policies, transnationalism and International Organizations. She has published articles and books and has edited special issues and volumes on migration, diaspora and border issues. Her pubications in English include Greek Immigrants in Postwar Belgium: Community and Identity Formation Processes (2002), Deterritorialising’ the Nation: the Greek State and ‘Ecumenical Hellenism (article in a volume on the Greek Diaspora and Migration, 2009), and International “Migration Management” in the Early Cold War: The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (editor, 2015).

Lina Venturas is director of the Research Unit for the History of Migratory and Refugee Movements at the Panteion University and she has been scientific coordinator of the “Migration Management and International Organizations: A history of the establishment of the International Organization for Migration” (MIMIO) research Programme. She is also head of the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs Scientific Committee for the integration of refugee children in education.

Professor Venturas spoke with Rethinking Greece* about the waves of Greek emigration to the US, Northwest Europe and Australia as part of wider population movements from agricultural economies to industrial countries, the key role human mobility has played in the development of the modern and contemporary world, the programme for integration of refugee children in the Greek educational system and the importance of according legal status and other socio-economic rights to refugees and migrants.


Greek coalminers in Belgium 
What are the most important waves of Greek migration from the establishment of the Greek state until today? How does the nature of Greek migration to the US (late 19th century-1924) compare to the later migration to Northwest Europe, USA, Australia and Canada (1945-1974)? 
Emigration from the Greek state to the Ottoman Empire’s merchant cities and ports occurred throughout the 19th century. From the late 19th century onwards, many Greeks also headed towards Egypt, where they formed a large and socially heterogeneous community. However, it was in the 1890s that Greece became a major source of labour immigrants, when the stream of emigrants shifted towards the USA. From the last decades of the 19th century to 1924, the USA received over 400,000 Greeks, a large part of them originating in the Peloponnese. Immigration to the USA marked a shift in the traditional patterns of population movements, as Greeks heading there became part of the extending American multiethnic industrial working class. Due to the overall structure of the economy and the specific economic circumstances in the USA in the first half of the 20th century -and to other social and political factors- a significant part of these immigrants followed an upward social mobility pattern and gradually acquired American citizenship. However, about 40% of them returned to Greece, while many others who stayed there did not achieve their “American dream”. 
As regards the following wave of immigration (1945-1974), we can observe the following: Greece entered the post-World War II period with significant inequalities in working conditions, incomes and productivity between the urban and the rural-agricultural sector, and with a significant surplus of labor force in rural areas. For a large part of the population, bad living conditions, a virtually nonexistent welfare state, combined with the gradual spread of consumerist values and the rising awareness of the differences in standards of living, set the conditions for a second mass emigration abroad. These economic and social conditions, as well as the exclusion of adherents of the Left from the economic, social and political life of the country, after the Left’s defeat in the civil war (1949) and until the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, constituted the main emigration push factors. Evidence suggests that during the period 1955-1971, at least one million Greeks -that is 1/9 of the total Greek population- emigrated to overseas countries (Australia, United States and Canada) and to Europe (mainly West Germany) in order to find work.


Overall, both the turn of the 20th century movement to the USA and post-war emigration, form part of broader population movements from agricultural economies to countries with a strong and expanding secondary sector. These movements were largely dictated by the receiving states’ labour market needs; they mainly involved peasants from agricultural countries who settled in urban areas of the host countries and were transformed into proletarians. In the post-war era these overseas movements continued; some 140,000 Greek migrants settled in the USA, 175,000 in Australia and 86,000 in Canada. But, after the enactment of the German-Greek migration agreement in 1960, Germany became the main destination of emigrants. 61% of post-war emigrants went to Northwestern European countries, while emigration to West Germany alone accounted for 53% of the total number of emigrants in the period 1960-1977. There was a significant change in the geographical provenance of post-war migrants to Europe as they now departed mostly from the North of Greece: Macedonia contributed 36% of all migrants and 44% of those who went to European countries during the post-war era.

Post-war immigration to Western European countries was subject, much more than migration to other continents, or during other periods, to a policy of organised labour importation, drafted by the host countries’ governments and employers and regulated bya temporary contract labor system, bilateral migration agreements and the implementation of welfare policies. Many young Greeks were persuaded to leave the country through the combination of active recruitment by Western European countries and especially Western Germany, the wages these countries offered (which were three times higher than in Greece) and the relative security of an employment contract and the various social benefits.

Whereas overseas emigration was seen by receiving countries as largely permanent, outflows directed to Germany and other European destinations were intended to be a temporary import of cheap labour. Therefore, although immigrants that settled in European countries were accorded social rights, they were not naturalized, due to the receiving states’ policies. Greek immigrants in European states secured jobs and steady incomes and enjoyed a significant improvement in their standard of living. Nevertheless, deindustrialization and the economic transformations instigated by the oil crisis of 1973, did not allow for significant social mobility. Furthermore, both the receiving states and Greece adopted policies concerning the education of migrants’ children which did not facilitate their upward mobility. 

Greece is to this day both a receiving and a sending migration country. How does this affect the Greek public debate on immigration?
Numerous countries were successively receiving and sending states during the last two centuries or are simultaneously receiving and sending migrants today. I do not think that this fact weighs significantly on the current public debate on immigration in Greece or elsewhere. In my opinion, global asymmetries and social inequalities interact with the way different groups perceive their country’s position in the international arena and their own position in society; along with hopes and fears about the future, that are the factors that most effectively influence stances and opinions on migration. 
I would like to add that public debates on important issues like immigration, do not always aim at achieving a deeper understanding; more often than not, those participating in such debates seek to influence others by selectively pointing out certain elements while obscuring others and by simplifying and de-historicizing. In the public debate on immigration in Greece, those who are hostile to immigrants, when they have to comment on emigration from their country, claim that, in contrast to foreigners living in Greece today, Greek emigrants moved and settled abroad legally and also that, because they were of a “better quality” or “more civilized”, they were law abiding and successful residents in their host countries. Those who have a more positive view on immigrants underline the common economic and social factors that lead to migration, as well as to the discrimination and difficulties most immigrants face. Both use stereotypes and common-sense scenarios to influence the outcome of social, political and ideological conflicts and the future.
You are the director of the Research Unit for the History of Migratory and Refugee Movements at the Panteion University of Athens. Can you talk to us about the work being done there? What can we learn from studying population movements?
The Research Unit for the History of Migrant and Refugee Movements is part of the Research Center for Modern History, which was created at the Department of Political Science and History of the Panteion University of Athens. The Unit functions as an area of interdisciplinary research, production and transmission of knowledge, as well as a sphere of exchange among those who are interested in global population movements and their impact on citizenship, past and present. The Unit seeks to contribute in the study of the history of population movements, Diaspora and citizenship, during the modern and contemporary era.  
Human mobility has played a key role in the course of the development of the modern and contemporary world, affecting the natural environment and material culture, the global distribution of population and resources, political and social organization, economics, technology, cultural systems and everyday life. Whether forced or voluntary, intercontinental, local, intra-imperial, cross-border or internal to nation-states, population movements influenced in various ways, depending on the era, not only those moving, but also the abandoned homelands and the sites of new settlement, the course of political communities, states and international relations, contributing decisively to closer links between more or less remote areas and isolated cultural systems. Human migration has contributed to marking out and transforming racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other identities and/or relationships. Organizing their lives in various locations, migrant populations transferred, exchanged and transformed cultural systems, triggering social conflicts and social change, or even wars.
Historical research, in interaction with relevant studies and the tools of other social sciences that focus on population movements, expands and deepens our knowledge of the diverse and shifting causes, motivations and consequences of human mobility, along with the multilevel power relations that accompany it; in this way, it contributes thus to the analysis of the multiple forms of mobility and the mechanisms that underpin or undermine it. A historical approach allows us, among other things, to demonstrate the complex factors linked to population movements, to correlate in a more productive way between local and global transformations and to critically question dominant conceptions of related contemporary phenomena. Via the study of the history of the migrant, refugee and Diasporic phenomena, the localization and use of relevant archives (documents, oral testimonies, audiovisual material etc.) and the diffusion of knowledge on moving populations and their relations with local and sedentary ones, the Unit attempts, by operating as a mediator between the scientific community and the broader audience, to contribute to a better understanding of the transformation of political communities and collective representations that emanate from human mobility.
Since March 2016, you are heading the Scientific Committee the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs set up in order to form a plan for the integration of refugee children in education. Can you tell us more?

Safeguarding the right of refugee children to education has been a major concern of the Greek Ministry of Education, teachers, academics and many others. The objective of the Greek state is to ensure psychosocial support and to integrate refugee children in the Greek educational system, without burdening schools with an excessively large number of children who do not speak Greek and have not been appropriately prepared to attend a Greek school. In March 2016, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs set up a Scientific Committee to form a plan for the integration of refugee children in education; this plan had to be designed in such a way so as to increase the chances that refugee children succeed at school and do not abandon it. 

For the school year 2016-2017, the Scientific Committee considered the specific need refugee children had due to the fact that they were experiencing a transition from war to normality. Furthermore, owing to wars and being continuously on the move, a significant percentage of refugee children had been outside the school environment for years, and many children had never attended school, although they were of school age. Additionally, many children are burdened by psychological traumas. In order to meet their needs, emphasis needed to be placed on their adaptation and familiarization with the school environment and on cultivating a sense of security, communication and acceptance. A transitional education program was also considered necessary as these children do not speak Greek and many had to cover gaps in their education due to their long absence from schools. 


The refugee population living in Greece is quite heterogeneous in terms of characteristics and fluctuating in numbers. So, predicting the exact number of children that will stay in Greece is not easy; neither is the duration of their stay or their place of residence. Therefore, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs had to take into account the insecurity and instability of the situation and prepared for multiple scenarios in terms of the numbers and locations. An additional issue making planning difficult was the fact that the children who will probably stay in Greece belong to different legal status categories: There are children whose parents have been accorded refugee status; others that are waiting for relocation or family unification without being sure about their departure or the departure date; also children whose families have submitted an application for asylum that is yet to be considered, others who live on the islands, unaccompanied minors etc.

With the exception of the children whose parents have been given refugee status, it is impossible to predict if and when the status of the others will be regulated, or when and how many of them will be relocated. However, given the fact that we are talking about children, the needs of the entire potentially existing population had to be provided for and covered. Furthermore, as shown by a number of studies, the trend in the migration and asylum policies of the EU is the long wait of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers under a quasi-precarious regime.

How does this uncertainty impact the refugees’ attitudes towards formal education?

Refugees that crossed to Greece did not aim at settling here; fully aware that it is almost impossible to find work, they aimed at moving to other European countries. Remaining stranded for a long time in Greece caused insecurity, either because they were waiting for an answer to their for asylum/relocation request or because those refugees who could not look forward to these solutions were looking for other ways to leave the country. After the closing of the borders and the European Union-Turkey agreement, the legal status and the relocation prospects to another country of the various refugee groups -in mainland Greece and on the islands- started to change. Under these conditions, the refugees’ attitude towards formal education was, and still is, ambivalent. The feeling of precariousness is, still today, intensified by the fact that a significant percentage of refugees still live in Accommodation Centers and, what is more, they are frequently moved from one to another. With a view to remedy this situation, many refugees have been moved for some months now by the High Commissioner or other agencies to flats, hotels and shelters in Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Livadia, Kilkis, Arta, etc. The Ministry of Migration Policy aims at expanding the accommodation program in such urban facilities and decreasing the number of refugees living at Accommodation Centers.

Now that the school year is over, what is your overall assessment of the program for the education of refugee children in Greece?

The effort to integrate refugee children in the educational system for the 2016-2017 school year, was not without difficulties, mistakes and omissions, there were however, equally significant achievements. The basic omissions concern the non-implementation of the Scientific Committee’s proposals for the operation of kindergartens and non-mandatory education programs for children over 15 years old. The organization and operation of obligatory schooling also faced many problems, weaknesses and delays as all refugee children had to be vaccinated. Furthermore, there was a relatively high percentage of dropouts, while irregular attendance was also registered (although the percentages were number similar to those of other countries), mainly due to the unstable and adverse conditions under which refugees live, which are intensified by institutional and educational omissions and deficiencies.

Finally, there was inadequate and delayed information and sensitization of several local societies and, as a result, there were few, but vociferous local reactions which were reproduced by the media. Nevertheless, in laying down the foundation for school attendance and social connection, the Ministry of Education Research & Religious Affairs took the first step in the integration of refugees. The social and political bet of getting refugees out of the ghetto of camps, bringing back some normality to refugee children’s life, familiarizing them with the school system, and finally, making refugees more visible in Greek society, has been won to a great extent. All this has occurred against a difficult background, if we look at the wider European and international reality right now. These achievements are important, given that refugees have limited opportunities for interaction with Greek citizens and social integration in general. These accomplishments are also of great significance because they constitute a starting point for the greater acceptance of refugee rights and their integration in Greek and European societies.

r4rThessaloniki Museum of Photography: Another life: Human flows / Unknown Odysseys 

Historically, the UK has applied a mildly multiculturalist approach to integration, while France opted for assimilation. Angela Merkel recently stated that “Multiculturalism leads to parallel societies and therefore remains a sham“.  What do you think should be the principles of a successful integration policy in Greece? 

Integration is an open-ending, multi-factorial social process that extends over time. Global and local asymmetries, international and social hierarchies, combined with transformations in the economic sphere and labor markets, play a major role in processes of social and cultural integration. Most of all, integration depends on whether refugees and migrants are accorded a legal status and rights and are able to gain a decent living in their host country. So, residence and work permits, social and other rights, along with economic relations and the structure of the labor market in host countries, are of great importance. It is of great importance that refugees and migrants feel that they are recognized and respected as human beings, like the citizens of the host country: when they are stigmatized and scapegoated, collectively condemned for the acts of an extremist or a criminal with the same national/cultural background, then they rightly feel that whatever their personal views and actions are, they will be excluded from society.

Instead, when people reasonably aspire to live with dignity, safety and make a decent living, when they have opportunities to improve their families’ future, then they are motivated to learn the language of their host country, to adapt to new conditions and to participate in society. Both the UK and France are relatively affluent consumerist countries with a colonial background that, since the 1980s, have adopted economic, social and political measures that lead to the exclusion of a significant part of their citizenry from the labor market and social benefits. Furthermore, the EU, during the last decades has adopted neo-colonial policies vis-à-vis developing countries and a hostile stance towards the refugees and migrants coming from them. In both the UK and France islamophobic discourses have been legitimized by several politicians and media. These factors and their economic, social, political and cultural consequences weigh, in my opinion, more heavily than multicultural or assimilationist policies on social relations and integration processes.

 *Interview by Ioulia Livaditi

Image source: International “Migration Management” in the Early Cold War: The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (eBook, University of the Peloponnese, 2015)