NEWS

Premier heralds new asylum agency

Prime Minister George Papandreou yesterday heralded the creation of a new independent agency for the processing of thousands of immigrants' asylum claims during talks with visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Papandreou reassured Guterres that the new agency would offer protection to those who need it but stressed that Greek authorities would intensify their crackdown on migrants entering the country illegally for the good of the country and the European Union. «It is certain that the potential of Europe and Greece to receive and integrate [migrants] is limited,» Papandreou said. The prime minister also stressed the importance of the «cooperation of countries bordering the EU... to ensure that those who are really in need are protected while reducing the burden faced by EU member states.» The two men reportedly discussed the role of Turkey in this regard. In a related development yesterday, Citizens' Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said that he and his French counterpart Brice Hortefeux would tomorrow unveil a joint initiative aimed at «urging Turkey into respecting the agreements that it has signed.» The premier also briefed Guterres on a government bill, to be submitted in Parliament by next week, that aims to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of migrants living and working legally in Greece and to their children. Guterres welcomed the news about the bill and the establishment of a new asylum-processing agency, noting that these measures would «secure human rights and social cohesion in Greece.» He added that he understood the need for Greece to conduct tighter border checks but remarked that «migration is a matter of human rights as well as national security protection.» A working committee - comprising experts from the Citizens' Protection, Interior and Health ministries, the UNHCR and a string of nongovernmental organizations - yesterday proposed that the separation of migrants meriting refugee status from economic migrants be carried out in special reception centers. These «first stop» centers are to be set up in due course though it is unclear where they will be located. Apart from the claims for asylum being lodged by new migrants arriving in Greece daily, the new agency has some 44,500 applications that are pending.

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