The election in Greece has jolted Europe’s political landscape: as a response to years of vicious austerity measures, the decisive victory of the radical left party Syriza has shaken up a country and a region long mired in economic and social despair. But while the sweeping support for an anti-capitalist party—in opposition to the neoliberal restructuring imposed by European Union institutions—is impressive, deeper societal and cultural shifts are churning beyond the electorate: in fact, some of the folks with the most personally at stake are not Greek citizens. They are Greece’s migrants: itinerant workers, displaced families, and uprooted refugees fleeing persecution, poverty and war in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Although Syriza is most famous for its pointedly populist economic program—based on resisting debt obligations, bolstering welfare programs, and reducing inequality—some migrants see hope in their more obscure immigration policy proposals.
As part of their broader push for social equality, Syriza has championed policy changes such as speeding up the asylum petition process—which could help migrants secure their right to resettle and protect them from deportation; repealing the EU-wide rules restricting migrants’ travel within the region; guaranteeing human rights protections for immigrants currently in detention; promoting reunification of immigrant families (who are often separated on the grueling and dangerous journey); and overall, “Social inclusion of immigrants and equal rights protection.”
It’s unclear how many, if any, of these policies will lead to actual legislative reforms. Given that Syriza just formed a dubious coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL, in the Greek abbreviation) an anti-immigrant right-wing party, these initiatives could quickly be neutralized or perverted by the contradictory alliance. But if we take the platform on its word, the immigration proposals open a concrete avenue for protecting immigrants’ rights, breaking from the European status quo of tightening borders, criminalizing the undocumented, and shutting out asylum seekers.
In contrast to the reactionary surge that elevated the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as a leading opposition force in 2012, the leftward social shift seems to counter the conventional wisdom: economic hard times can often precipitate rises in xenophobia and chauvinism, fueled by fears of “job stealing” foreigners. But the massive hardship weighing on Greece’s populace has also created an opening for progressive, rather than reactionary, political ideas. From a democratic standpoint, there’s perhaps an intuitive realization that, in a system of ruthlessly free-flowing, global exchange of capital, restraining people’s free movement doesn’t make much moral or political sense.