Greek Helsinki Monitor
Minority Rights Group - Greece

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September 21, 1999








P.O.Box 51393, GR-14510 Kifisia, Greece
Tel. 30-1-620.01.20, Fax 30-1-807.57.67
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21 September 1999

Greece’s Stateless Persons

“Article 19” Stateless

Article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code (Law 3370 of 1955) was an obvious case of discrimination. It provided that: “A person of non-Greek ethnic origin leaving Greece without the intention of returning may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship. This also applies to a person of non-Greek ethnic origin born and domiciled abroad. His minor children living abroad may be declared as having lost Greek citizenship if both their parents or the surviving parent have lost it as well. The Minister of the Interior decides on these matters with the concurring opinion of the Citizenship Council.” Article 19 was abolished by a parliamentary voice vote on 11 June 1998, When announcing the government’s decision to abolish Article 19, on 23/1/1998, Minister of the Interior Alekos Papadopoulos stated that, since its introduction in 1955, 60,000 Greek citizens had lost their citizenship in application of that article; the large majority were members of the minority in Thrace.

The abolition had no retroactive effect: past “victims” of that article cannot claim back their citizenship. The latter are those who have remained stateless within Greece (estimates vary between 300-1,000) or abroad (some 1,400 in Turkey and an unknown number elsewhere) and those who adopted the nationality of another country after they moved there and lost Greek citizenship (the vast majority). Stateless individuals in Greece have had difficulty receiving social services like health care and education and —until December 1997—were even denied the protection of the 1954 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which Greece ratified in 1975.

As a result of pressure from NGOs and minority deputies and organizations, around one hundred ethnic Turks made stateless under Article 19 have received identity documents from Greek authorities in accordance with the 1954 U.N. Convention. It is important to mention here that these stateless residents of Greece had unjustly been stripped of their citizenship in first place, as they had never settled abroad, a prerequisite of Article 19. In August 1998, then Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos stated that within a year most or all of the stateless living in Greece would be offered Greek citizenship; this promise was repeated in subsequent months by then Alternate and Deputy Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Yannos Kranidiotis. However, to date the government has taken no steps to carry out this promise. The Greek government must grant citizenship immediately to these few hundred residents and consider additional means to redress the injustice. The former is a legal obligation under Article 32 of the 1954 U.N. Convention which Greece has been disregarding.

It should also introduce the possibility to grant citizenship to the few thousand former Greek citizens who are now living as stateless abroad. It should finally grant the former Greek citizens who have been stripped of their citizenship under Articles 19 or 20 of the Citizenship Code and live abroad with different citizenship (almost all are ethnic Turks or Macedonians) at least unhindered entrance to Greece, irrespective of their minority advocacy abroad; and examine favorably any possible (but expected to be rare) request for citizenship.


Born Stateless

Another category of Muslims was born stateless. Their ancestors moved from Bulgaria and were supposed to be Roma. Christian Roma and most Muslim Roma whose ancestors were born in Greece were granted citizenship in the 1970’s (most Roma had been stateless until then). But these Roma (self-identified Turks) were forced by police to acquire expensive alien’s residence permits valid only for one year: on them police authorities mentioned they were of “undefined” citizenship and of Turkish nationality (ie ethnicity). The police department of Komotini refused in 1999 to give an identity document (an obligation under the relevant UN Convention) to one of them, Mr. Durgut Sezgin, when our NGOs pointed out to him the possibility. Mr. Sezgin has been receiving threats by local police not to insist on acquiring such a document. What is more, eight months after his application and only after the Ombudsman stepped in, the police alleged that the reference to an undefined citizenship was a mistake that had supposedly being repeated for years. They claimed that Mr. Sezgin had Bulgarian citizenship, and asked him to prove that he is not Bulgarian in order to consider him a stateless person. Authorities have no document showing that Mr. Sezgin, who was born in Greece and never left it, has Bulgarian citizenship. They base their argument on birth certificates (in Greek) that his parents were made to sign, as most illiterate, Turkish-speaking Muslims do lest they run into trouble with local powerful authorities.

Many Roma in Komotini and other places in Greece assimilated into the Turkish minority are being refused citizenship rights, and even the status of stateless according to the UN Convention. Mr. Sezgin is one of them. The attitude of the police towards him is typical for most of the cases. Taking advantage of the highly bureaucratic procedures, or simply denying a reasonable excuse, the lower administration blatantly violates the law and refuses to provide people like Mr. Sezgin with the necessary documents. Thus these people are officially considered non-existent and have no access to rights and benefits that are given to all other citizens. Once again, Greece is obligated not only to acknowledge the status of stateless of these people, but also grant them citizenship, in the framework of Article 32 of the UN Convention.

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group – Greece express their profound sorrow over the tragic death, on 14/9/1999, of Alternate Foreign Minister Yannos Kranidiotis, who contributed methodically to the consolidation and respect of human rights in Greece and the strengthening of the role of NGOs. Moreover, in anticipation of the presentation of this report to the OSCE Review Conference 1999, they submitted a complimentary copy to the Greek Foreign Ministry on 16/9/1999.


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