NEWS

Release for 1,200 illegal migrants

Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis yesterday announced the impending release of 1,200 illegal immigrants from police holding cells around the country while also heralding a overhaul of the coast guard and police force to deter traffickers from bringing would-be migrants to Greece. The freed immigrants would be given a month to leave the country and offered financial incentives for their repatriation, the minister said, noting that migrants facing trial on criminal charges would not be subject to release. Chrysochoidis said that more measures were in the pipeline, including the reform of legislation to ensure greater rights for the children of migrants. «Child migrants who have grown up in Greece and merit protection status will not be subject to deportation,» he said. «First and foremost we want to discourage illegal entry but we must also drastically improve our country's human rights record,» Chrysochoidis told reporters following talks with top police and navy officials. The minister added that Greece would «no longer be a free-for-all but neither a hell pit for human souls.» To this end, and in an apparent reaction to complaints lodged against Greece by international rights groups earlier this week, Chrysochoidis also heralded the creation of a police department that would probe alleged rights violations by officers. The plan is for the unit to operate in cooperation with the Ombudsman, Giorgos Kaminis, who last week highlighted the problem of illegal immigration when he appeared at the new government's first ministerial meeting. Chrysochoidis said another priority would be reorganizing the coast guard with the aim of intensifying sea patrols and curbing a relentless influx of migrants to islands in the eastern Aegean. Earlier this week, the European Union's border-monitoring agency Frontex reported a 47 percent increase in the number of illegal immigrants entering Greece through its sea border with Turkey. This sharp increase came even as Italy and Spain, also external EU border states, reported a 60 percent drop in illegal arrivals partly due to repatriation agreements signed with Libya and Senegal respectively.

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