by Rebecca Lieb
7 March, 2021 - Tsangarada, GR
On March 5, the Greek parliament finally ratified legislation granting foreign residents ineligible for AMKA (a Greek social security number) the right to obtain a temporary number, enabling them to get in line for the COVID vaccine. This law rectifies a grave and dangerous oversight that affected tens - if not hundreds - of thousands of legal residents.
Without AMKA, there was no possibility of obtaining a vaccine appointment in Greece. Many thousands of legal residents: Golden Visa holders and their families (70,000 people); students, retirees, some diplomats, digital nomads, and other residents without work permits could not hope for the vaccine without AMKA, which is tied to a work permit.
Even elderly Greek citizens who retired to Greece but never worked here can't get AMKA, nor can many resident EU citizens.
Not only are our numbers statistically significant, many segments of this population belong to the most vulnerable groups. While other EU countries understand the importance of vaccinating their entire populations and only required proof of residency, Greece initially tied vaccine eligibility to a work permit or work history.
This legislation didn’t pass without a significant and consistent amount of pressure. Since December, I've been waging a daily campaign to reach Greek politicians and media with the message, “If we’re not safe, Greeks aren’t safe.”
In addition to several articles in Greek and English-language publications, efforts sparked interest from several very major foreign media outlets, putting Greek ministries on high alert. The Greek government actively funds marketing campaigns to attract many of the affected groups to live in Greece. In some cases their messaging highlights “the safety and security of living in the EU.” We highlighted this discrepancy.
Simultaneously, a social media campaign drummed up awareness and support. Posts in Facebook expat groups helped to organize a disparate group of expats desperate for the vaccine, but unsure how to go about asserting their rights. These people were encouraged to reach out to ministers, politicians, the Greek Ombudsman, and local media, as well as to encourage their friends to do so. We appealed to our Greek friends and neighbors to support our cause, not the easiest task as there’s a mindset here that everyone can easily get AMKA (which they could, until laws recently changed). Finally, we took to Twitter in real time, reminding politicians and news outlets that discussed the COVID crisis in that channel that Greece still has a huge population ineligible for the vaccine.
Talking points for the issue were developed: we’re high risk; we’re statistically significant; Greece must vaccinate its population, not just its citizens; we were invited to live here by the government, which has a duty to protect legal residents; and perhaps most important, we were not asking for privileges or special treatment, but rather the right to get in line for the vaccine with everyone else.
We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re getting there. The Ministry of Health informs me that there’s not yet a timetable for the relevant button to appear on the vaccine website, but effective Monday, March 8, residents in need of a temporary AMKA number to obtain a vaccine appointment can apply at the KEP.
Bear in mind your mileage may vary. It will likely take a few days for the new process to be onboarded at more remote KEPs. There are many reports of newly issued AMKA numbers behaving problematically on https://emvolio.gov.gr. If that’s the case, your local pharmacy or KEP can assist in scheduling a vaccine appointment.
We can’t take all the credit for this new law, but we’re confident that without a little old-fashioned American style activism, it wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did.
Rebecca Lieb is a Democrats Abroad GR board member, one of two At-Large Representatives carrying the banner for DAGR members who live outside the chapter areas.