Labour market integration of migrants and refugees seen from the newcomers’ perspective: the Greek case


Christos Bagavos and Nikos Kourachanis

Biographical interviews provide key elements on how migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (MARs) develop strategies to cope with the barriers and to find the enablers for the integration into the Greek labour market. In reality there are significant turning points and epiphanies that are crucial to the labour market integration of MRAs.
Among the points that seem to encourage the integration of MRAs is the sense of safety and enjoyment of rights that accompany living on European territory. Positive impacts also appear to be found in the various actions being developed by NGOs in the area of employability, learning the Greek language, implementing the HELIOS program, as well as the support MRAs receives from informal solidarity networks.
The plan of MRAs for moving into Europe, as well as their expectations of the migratory travel, is in keeping with the sense of security that the European culture provides, in particular the respect of human rights and, in general, the possibility of living with dignity. At the same time, employability services created by NGOs can be considered as a substitute for state deficiencies. Some NGOs have included in their social support programs the development of activities and services for the preparation of MRAs for entry into the Greek
labour market. Such activities include writing a CV, preparing for an interview with employers, learning IT and Greek or English language. However, such actions, although important, are of limited scope if fulfilled by NGOs and cannot meet the needs of the majority of MRAs.
In addition, field research shows that the most crucial turning point for MRAs integration is the role of ethnic/migratory networks. Those networks are becoming the main channel of communication with the Greek labour market. Mostly ethnic/migratory networks seem to channel MRAs into ethnic businesses. In ethnic businesses, MRAs come to a first employment process in Greece and gain their first work experience.
Biographic interviews also revealed some turning points or epiphanies that may hinder MRAs labour market integration. A key issue is the vulnerable psychology and post- traumatic shock of many newcomers. The painful experience of persecution is a parameter that has created traumatic experiences for them. Coming from regimes that do not respect human rights have suffered catastrophic events. Often, the process of migratory travel was framed by new serious threats that again put their lives at risk. All these events, which
happened before their eyes, have left negative experiences to MRAs.
In terms of employment orientation, a major barrier is the absence of targeted employment policies. This situation is made worse by the fact that MRAs are in Greece at a time when, after ten years of austerity policies and recession, there is a general phenomenon of unemployment among the population living in Greece. Greece still suffers from high unemployment rates, even today. At the same time, the absence of any preparatory intercultural action to familiarize asylum seekers and refugees with the European way of life
is a particularly important factor. There are also difficulties in integrating employment due to the lack of educational activities for learning the Greek language.
One last issue relates to the absence of constant and targeted Greek MRAs employment policies. The most typical example is the 2018 (non-binding) National Strategy for Integration. Although this strategy provided some labour market integration measures for MRAs, its implementation has actually deteriorated and has essentially ceased.
In general, lack of Greek language knowledge, skills record and monitoring, mechanisms relative to the recognition of professional and educational qualifications, and knowledge about the labour market and the opportunities for networking are among the most relevant barriers to the labour market integration of MRAs. Those aspects are closely connected with the absence and the inability of the state to establish institutionalized structures providing relevant services. At that respect, Civil Society Organizations, by undertaking several activities and offering various services play a significant role in the process of the integration of MRAs into the labour market. However, they frame their activities as those of a temporary
agent that provides support to migrants, yet these activities are rather fragmented and not always connected with the implementation of government policies. In practice, the framework and the aim of State integration policies are mostly absent, and therefore, ethnic/migratory networks end up playing the major role in providing help to MRAs to reach and to integrate into the labour market.