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Intervention on Statelessness at OSCE Review Conference

1999


At the 1999 OSCE Review Conference, the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece made an intervention regarding the situation of stateless persons in Greece:

The two NGOs welcomed the 1998 abolition of article 19 of the Greek Citizenship Code (Law 3370 of 1955) which 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 right also applied to a person of non-Greek ethnic origin born and domiciled abroad and their minor children living abroad, if both of their parents or the surviving parent had also lost citizenship.

Article 19 was abolished by a parliamentary voice vote on 11 June 1998. In January 1998, Minister of the Interior Alekos Papadopoulos had stated that, since its introduction in 1955, 60,000 Greek citizens had lost their citizenship through the application of the article, the large majority of whom were members of the Muslim minority in Thrace.

At the OSCE Review Conference, the Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece emphasized that the abolition of article 19 had not completely solved the problem because the abolition had no retroactive effect: past victims of the article cannot reclaim their citizenship. Such individuals include 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 leaving Greece and losing citizenship (the vast majority). Stateless individuals in Greece have had difficulty receiving social services such as health care and education and —until December 1997—were even denied the protection of the 1954 UN 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 UN Convention. It is important to mention here that these stateless residents of Greece had been unjustly stripped of their citizenship in the 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 if not all of the stateless persons living in Greece would be offered Greek citizenship. This promise was reiterated in subsequent months by then Alternate and Deputy Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Yannos Kranidiotis. However, to date the government has not taken any steps to carry out this promise.

The Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece demanded that the Greek government immediately grant citizenship to the few hundred residents and consider additional means to redress the injustice. The former is a legal obligation under article 32 of the 1954 UN Convention, which Greece has been disregarding. The government should also introduce the possibility to grant citizenship to the few thousand former Greek citizens who are now living as stateless citizens abroad. Finally, it should at least grant 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), unhindered entrance to Greece, irrespective of their minority advocacy abroad. They should also examine any requests for citizenship favorably, although such requests are expected to be rare.

According to the two NGOs, 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 only valid for one year. The permits contained a mention by police authorities that they were of "undefined" citizenship and of Turkish nationality (i.e. ethnicity). In 1999, the police department of Komotini refused to issue an identity document (an obligation under the relevant UN Convention) to Mr. Durgut Sezgin. He has been threatened by the local police not to insist on acquiring such a document. Eight months after his application and following the intervention of the ombudsman, police alleged that the reference to an undefined citizenship had been a mistake that had supposedly been repeated for years. They claimed that Mr. Sezgin had Bulgarian citizenship, and asked him to prove that he is not Bulgarian in order to be considered a stateless person. However, authorities have no documents showing that Mr. Sezgin, who was born in Greece and never left the country, has Bulgarian citizenship. Their argument is based on birth certificates (in Greek) that his parents were forced to sign - as most illiterate, Turkish-speaking Muslims are forced to do lest they run into trouble with powerful local authorities.

Many Roma in Komotini, and other areas in Greece, who have been assimilated into the Turkish minority are being refused citizenship rights, and even ‘stateless’ status pursuant to the UN Convention. Thus these people are officially considered non-existent and have no access to the rights and benefits afforded to all other citizens.

Excercising its right to reply, the permanent mission of Greece to the OSCE stated on 21 September that article 19 had been abolished and that "it is a thing of the past, it belongs in the past."

Regarding individuals who have lost their citizenship, the OSCE delegation said that the position of the Greek government on this is clear: those wishing to acquire Greek citizenship may apply for it, following the legal procedure provided for by Greek law. In fact, it said, many former article 19 cases have applied for Greek citizenship and some have already been granted it.

As for the Roma, said the delegation, those living in Greece have Greek citizenship. It downplayed the problems faced by Roma by stating that Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group–Greece had, in their intervention, focused too much on certain cases; particularly the case of a single Rom, Mr. Sezgin. Further, the delegation wondered "whether they are really worthy of being discussed in a forum like this, considering in particular that the persons involved cannot be said to be suffering let alone being endangered in any way. Those are cases of people going through a routine administrative process and encountering difficulties in it. I think that if all the states represented here were subjected to the same scrutiny that is applied to Greece, it would not be surprising to find 100 instances of persons whose right to the citizenship of the country where they reside is not established in every single state."

Source: "Report on Greece to the 1999 OSCE Review Conference: Greece’s Stateless Persons," Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group-Greece, 21 September 1999; Statement by the Permanent delegation of Greece to the OSCE, 21 September 1999.
     
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