Τετάρτη, 22 Ιουλίου 2009

BORN TO BE DEPORTED

ATHENS NEWS , 27/03/2009, page: A15 Article code: C13331A151

Though he has lived in Greece since birth, Dimitris Kiniatzoui has nopermanent legal right to stay and now faces deportationHAD DIMITRIS Kiniatzoui been born in Germany, he would have acquired German citizenship on his eighth birthday. Had he been born in France, he would have become a naturalised French citizen five years ago, on his 18th birthday. Instead, Kiniatzoui was born to his Kenyan mother and Nigerian father, in Greece, and now faces deportation. "I'm trying hard not to let this bring me down," said Kiniatzoui, 23, after spending two nights in an Athens jail cell with other undocumented migrants. "It feels really bad, psychologically. I've always considered Greece to be my homeland." Kiniatzoui's predicament as an undocumented resident is not unique - thousands of Greece-born children of immigrants face a similar hardship - his is the first known case of deportation. "It's the only country I know. I've never lived anywhere else. I don't want to live anywhere else," said Kiniatzoui, whose father abandoned the family. "I still can't believe that I could be deported. I have nowhere to go." Kiniatzoui finds himself in limbo. Greece doesn't want him, but he cannot, for instance, move to Kenya, which grants citizenship only to those born to male nationals. With his father long gone, Nigeria isn't an option either. "My family - my mum and my six brothers and sisters - are all here," he said. "It's pretty sad. I've never thought something like this could ever happen to me. I've been stopped by police many times in the past, but they would always let me go as soon as they heard me speak in fluent Greek." But not this last time. Police officers conducting a routine document check targeting immigrants in Pangrati stopped the 23-year-old on March 16. Police arrested him because he does not have a residence permit. Kiniatzoui is now appealing his deportation order, which gives 30 days to leave the country. His case has been taken on pro bono by lawyer Elektra Koutra, founder of the newly established non-governmental organisation Greek Action for Human Rights. "Second-generation immigrants who were born and bred here are at least entitled to Greek citizenship when they come of age, especially in Dimitris' case," Koutra said. "He only speaks Greek. He's practically a third-generation immigrant. His mother came to Greece with her father when she was just four years old. Her father was a priest at Ayios Ioannis church on Vouliagmenis Ave. But when he died, she lost her residency." Greece is a jus sanguinis state, which means a child's citizenship is determined by his or her parents' citizenship. This means only those with blood ties to Greece may be Greek. The rest may only acquire citizenship through naturalisation - a long, expensive and complicated process. At least several thousand immigrants are in the pipeline to become Greek citizens. Immigrants are eligible to apply for citizenship through the process of naturalisation after 10 years of continuous residence in the past 12 years. Those who apply usually have to wait as long as 10 years for their application to be reviewed. Most are rejected. The only record of Kiniatzoui's existence in Greece is a registration of his birth at the local vital statistics office (lixiarheio). He doesn't have a birth certificate. Under Greek law, birth certificates are issued only to babies whose parents are registered on a municipal roll (dimotologio) - and only Greek citizens may register. Immigrant and human rights groups, as well as main opposition Pasok and Left Coalition Syriza, have called for a major overhaul of citizenship legislation so that children born to immigrants in Greece may automatically acquire citizenship. Main opposition Pasok leader Yiorgos Papandreou has said he supports automatic citizenship rights for the Greece-born children of immigrants. Left Coalition Synaspismos leader Alexis Tsipras told this newspaper a year ago that he too believes the citizenship law must be revised so that these children may be granted citizenship automatically, if so desired. But under existing legislation, children of parents who reside legally in Greece may apply for citizenship through a naturalisation process on their 18th birthday. Or, they may apply for the new European Union-wide long-term resident status (a five-year residence permit), provided they have turned 18 years of age and their parents reside legally in the country. This means Kiniatzoui, as is the case with thousands of other second-generation immigrants, is not eligible for either citizenship or the longterm resident status. This could soon change. The European Union has threatened to take legal action against Greece if lawmakers continue to exclude the children of undocumented migrants. According to Jacque Barrot, the EU's justice and interior affairs commissioner, it is a violation of EU law. However, Alexandros Zavos, president of the government-sponsored immigration think-tank IMEPO, told the Athens News last month that the requirement of immigrant children's parents to be legal during the time of their application is "logical". "I don't think that this is unreasonable because if someone is illegally in the country, then they must leave the country," Zavos said. "This means that [undocumented] parents have to leave the country, which means the children would have to accompany them if they are minors and still dependent on their parents."

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