A refugee woman outside her tent in a makeshift camp, near a state run refugee camp, in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece | Photo: EPA/Sotiris Barbarousis
A refugee woman outside her tent in a makeshift camp, near a state run refugee camp, in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece | Photo: EPA/Sotiris Barbarousis

Greeks are mostly empathetic towards migrants and refugees. But a survey of attitudes towards national identity, immigration, and refugees in Greece has also found that many people are worried about the impact of migrants on overstretched public resources.

The research project, carried out by non-profit organization More In Common, is part of a global initiative aimed at tackling the growing threats to open and inclusive societies. For the Greece report, 2,000 people aged 18 to 64 were surveyed.

While deep frustrations remain among locals in Greece, which has taken in many people fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa, Greeks are "more likely to express empathy towards refugees than to blame them for their circumstances," according to the research findings. Many respondents saw them as "working hard and having good intentions for a better life." 

The survey also showed that the majority of Greeks do not think that the arrival and integration of migrants into their society represents any serious "threat" to their national identity. 

With the highest unemployment rate in Europe, Greece's economic difficulties have been well documented since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. In the survey, 31 percent identified the economic situation as the top issue facing the country, while 22 percent identified unemployment, which increased from 7 percent to 28 percent between 2008 and 2013 and was still high at 19 percent by the end of 2018.

Although many Greeks are concerned about immigration, especially on the North East Aegean islands close to Turkey and in the north near the land border, only 7 percent of them considered immigration to be the hottest issue facing the country.

Numbers still 'massive' 

At the current rate, it is estimated that Greece's population of asylum seekers will exceed 90,000 by the end of 2019. With its current systems and infrastructure, the migration policy minister, Dimitris Vitsas recently conceded that the country only has the capacity to process 20,000 asylum applications every year. In 2018, Greece received 67,000 applications.

Nearly half of the Greek population has had contact with refugees in recent years, far more than in other parts of Europe. More in Common's report identifies seven groups within the Greek population whose views on issues of identity and migration differ. "Around one in five are at either the 'open' or 'closed' ends of the spectrum, and three in five Greeks belong to one of three middle groups whose views are mixed. 

"Overall, most Greeks support the principle of asylum and believe that compassion and solidarity are important expressions of what it means to be Greek, with positive feelings for migrants outnumbering negative feelings by a factor of three to one," the report of the survey says.

Greek pride 

Pride in Greek culture and history remains an integral part of the sense of identity of most Greeks, although they feel that pride has begun to diminish. The research revealed that 77 percent have pride in the Greek identity, while 78 percent said they felt pride in the history of their country. Still, over half said that they were worried about the loss of national identity. A total of 54 percent of respondents believed that Greece's identity is slowly disappearing, while 56 percent said they sometimes felt "like strangers in their own country." 

Few Greeks believe that the country can reap any benefits from immigration: just 21 percent believe that "migration is beneficial to the Greek economy." Also, 41 percent said they were suspicious of providing benefits such as free housing to migrants, while 42 percent expressed concerns about migrants posing a risk to public health. In total, 51 percent of those who took part in the survey believe that immigration is "bad for Greece, burdening the welfare state and draining the resources that could be spent on Greeks."

Still, feelings from Greeks towards migrants are warmer than in other European countries where More in Common has been undertaking national studies since 2017. So far, Greece is the sixth country to be involved in such a research project, after the United States, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. 

*The report "Attitudes Towards National Identity, Immigration, and Refugees in Greece" by More in Common is available here.

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