Greece is to put undocumented migrants to work as builders as it struggles to complete major public projects such as a subway system and an airport in Crete.
The government plans to officially sanction an estimated 300,000 migrants who are either undocumented or whose residence permits have expired, Greece’s minister for migration said on Tuesday.
The move is aimed at tackling labour shortages in tourism, building, agriculture and other sectors.
It comes as Europe is facing a fresh wave of migration, fuelling political friction between EU member states, including Germany and Italy, and giving rise to concerns over what to do with the growing number of refugees on the continent.
Speaking during a visit to the US on Tuesday, Suella Braverman, the UK Home Secretary, warned uncontrolled migration poses an “existential challenge” to the West as she called for the rewriting of the decades-old United Nations refugee convention.
Greece’s migration minister admitted that providing a path to legal work for migrants who had arrived in the country might encourage illegal migration but said it was necessary given the scarcity of workers in a number of key industries.
“We do not want to create new incentives for further illegal flows because that is the danger,” said Dimitris Kairidis, the Greek migration minister.
“On the other hand, we want to go … from undeclared to declared labour to boost public revenue with employment taxes and contributions and help address dramatic shortages in certain sectors.”
The difficulties of finding enough workers was hindering some major public works projects, he said, including a new airport on Crete and the construction of a metro system in the northern city of Thessaloniki.
The metro system has been delayed by the decade-long Greek financial crisis, which began in 2009, and by numerous archaeological discoveries that were made as engineers dug deep beneath the city.
On Crete, meanwhile, the planned construction of a new airport outside Heraklion, the island’s main city, has been set back by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Kairidis said at the weekend that while the government was determined to crack down on illegal migration and trafficking gangs, it wanted to also boost legal migration routes.
He said the agricultural sector needed 110,000 farm labourers and there was also an acute need in hospitality, tourism and construction.
A survey in May by the Greek Exporters Association found that more than 90 per cent of the companies surveyed said they face labour shortages and difficulties in finding skilled workers.
The plans were announced amid a recent surge in the number of migrants reaching Greece from neighbouring Turkey.
So far this year, more than 18,000 migrants have arrived, an increase of 106 per cent on the figure for the corresponding period in 2022.
In the first seven months of this year, more than 176,000 unauthorised migrants have entered the EU according to Frontex, the bloc’s border security force. That is an increase of 13 per cent compared to the same period in 2022.
A rise in arrivals has also been registered in Germany, where Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration plans to halve the federal aid allocated for states to cover the expenses of receiving and integrating refugees next year.
At a meeting with the country’s 16 states on Monday, the federal government said it would slash such funding from €3.75 billion this year to €1.7 billion in 2024 as part of belt-tightening amid soaring inflation and an economic slowdown.
“We emphasise again that the states must provide their municipalities with the necessary financial resources,” a spokesman for Germany’s finance ministry told Reuters after the meeting.
‘Societal powder keg’
The meeting ended in an impasse after the two sides were unable to agree on a financing package ahead of a planned consultation with Mr Scholz in November.
Critics of the federal government’s move accused it of fuelling a “societal powder keg” after official figures showed more than 200,000 migrants had entered the country this year.
“Instead of increasing funds and decreasing migration figures, they are doing exactly the opposite: less money, rising refugee figures and no real solutions for how to control illegal migration,” said Gordon Schnieder, party secretary for the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in the southwestern state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
“Can’t the cries for help from the municipalities up and down the country be heard in the capital? Many municipalities have their backs to the wall... The cries for help from the municipalities grow louder every week, every day.”
Meanwhile, Luigi Pantisano, a Stuttgart city councillor for the hard-Left Linke party, warned that slashing aid would strengthen the anti-immigration, hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has seen its support surge in recent months.
Others, though, argued that state-level leaders were also shirking their responsibilities.
‘Hole in our finances’
Wolfgang Pieper, mayor of the town of Telgte near the Dutch border, said that the state government in North Rhine-Westphalia hadn’t raised the level of its refugee aid spending since 2017.
“In this year alone we will have a hole of two million [euros] in our finances,” he said, adding that authorities have had to turn two local sports halls into temporary shelters due to a lack of available housing options.
The cut in federal financing, if implemented, would bring federal aid to its lowest level since at least 2016.
During the tenure of Mr Scholz’ predecessor, Angela Merkel, it was not unusual for federal aid to local governments to exceed €6 billion.
But, after years of huge spending packages to deal with the consequences of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Scholz is keen to bring his budget back in line with Germany’s strict public spending limits.
The increase in migrant arrivals has come at a time when Germany is already coping with the consequences of housing and schooling a million refugees from Ukraine.
Polling shows that Germans have little faith in the government’s ability to cope with the migrant crisis.
Mr Scholz’s centre-Left Social Democrats have fallen to third place in national opinion polls, behind the AfD, in second, and CDU, which is currently the most popular party.