ATHENS – Even as authorities continue a sweep of illegal immigrants and planning to build detention centers to house them – and ready to deport some 200 Pakistanis – Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said the country is being overrun by an “invasion of immigrants” he liked to attempts by the Ancient Dorians, a Hellenic group who swept down from the north, ending the Mycenaean civilization.
Police said a total of 4,900 people were rounded up in Athens on Saturday in an operation to evict undocumented immigrants and that 1,130 were detained. “Greece and our existence is under threat,” he told SKAI radio, adding that he believes the problem is even bigger than the country’s economic crisis, and he urged local authorities and Greek citizens to support the push to rid the country of illegal immigrants, one of the cornerstones of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ campaign before the June 17 elections.
“The immigration problem is maybe even bigger than the financial one,” he said, calling the issue a “bomb at the foundations of the society and of the state.” Dendias warned that “unless we create the proper structure to handle immigration, then we will fall apart.”
Some 395 immigrants were arrested for being unregistered, in the context of a sweep operation in the wider Athens area, the Attica Police General Directorate (GADA) announced. It was code-named Xenios Zeus, after the ancient Greek patron of hospitality and guests. Dendias defended the name saying the campaign was also designed to restore the basic human rights of immigrant people in Greece. Dendias said it was an organized operation aimed to better deal with the issue of immigration. “I am not a magician and I know that I am sitting on an electric chair,” Dendias added.
A police spokesman told the BBC that illegal migrants without the necessary paperwork would be repatriated. “We do not care about color, ethnicity or religion of the illegal immigrants,” Dendias said. “The only criterion is the observance of laws with full respect, I repeat with full respect, for human rights and the European order.”
“The way illegal immigrants lived they had no human rights. They were crammed in rundown, unhealthy basement apartments. They were conned by smuggling rings into believing they would be able to get a job and travel to Europe,” Dendias said. “Now they will return to their home countries… It’s the best thing that could happen to them,” he said. The minister said about 8,000 migrants have already made applications to leave the country under Greece’s voluntary repatriation scheme.
Tension is rising over the issue with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which has 18 seats in Parliament, vowing it would empty Greece of immigrants, and has been linked to assaults on the foreigners. Golden Dawn blames them for rising crime during the economic crisis, and tension was ramped up when a Pakistani national was arrested for the brutal beating of a teenage girl on the island of Paros.
More than 2,000 immigrants are due to return to their homelands in the coming months as part of a new voluntary repatriation scheme being run by the Athens office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM.) Greece is a gateway for immigrants who want to get into the European Union (EU) and either seek asylum in Greece, try to find a job in the country and stay unlawfully, or move on to other countries. The economic crisis has put nearly 1.1 million people out of work and shrunk the economy some 7 percent. Greece is relying on $325 billion in bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) to stay afloat.
The newspaper Kathimerini reported that many immigrants, however, have given up the idea of finding a better life in Greece, where they came also seeking work and to escape trouble in their own countries, particularly Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq and eastern European countries. Many of them have instead ended up sleeping on the streets, eating out of garbage bins and fallen victim to racist attacks. Last year, some 1,200 were sent home voluntarily by IOM. The new program has a budget of 5 million euros, ($6.18 million) the bulk of which is to be covered by the EU. Most of the migrants who have applied for repatriation are Afghans, Pakistanis and Moroccans. Last month, Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry said it would open an embassy in Athens to help repatriate migrants.
An estimated 130,000 immigrants enter Greece each year and the country represents 90 percent of the arrests for unlawful entry into the EU. Greece has an estimated 800,000 legal immigrants and about 350,000 without papers, in a country with a population of less than 10 million. Last year, the respected Athens think tank, the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIMEP) estimated there were then some 470,000 illegal immigrants in the country, a rise of 60 percent from the previous two years. In 2009, the EU’s Clandestino program put the numbers at 280,000. Greece is also building a fence on its northern border with Turkey, which it blames is doing little even though that country is a conduit for a reported 1 million immigrants a year trying to get into the EU.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Citizenside, ELIAMEP)