Decision by Athens prefect to turn over centers to lawyers adds to woes of immigrants

The decision by the Athens prefectural authorities to stop their daily services to immigrants at 11 a.m. – after which their doors will be open exclusively to lawyers and legal clerks – may mean many migrants are going to find themselves seeking legal aid to get their papers in order. On the basis of this decision, hundreds of immigrants, who had waited hours at prefectural offices in order to renew their work permits, were «pushed back» by police so that lawyers representing other immigrants could deal with their clients’ cases. Migrants will now have even less time to organize their permits and may have to seek the help of the very lawyers «evicting» them in preparing the documents which will allow them to stay in the country. Of course, this means they will have to pay an extra fee to the lawyer handling their case – on top of the 150 euros they already pay for this issuance of a residence permit. The decision to implement this measure was made last Friday during a meeting between Athens Prefect Yiannis Sgouros, Athens Bar Association President Dimitris Paxinos and the president of the organization representing legal clerks, Yiannis Litsios. Sgouros said the move was simply the continuation of a policy adopted earlier by his predecessors, but pledged to review the reform in two weeks. Similar services for immigrants start operating in the Athenian districts of Brahami and Kallithea. Sgouros noted that on January 2, when he officially took on his post, the three immigrant service centers were not in operation as the staff’s contracts had expired last December 24. The centers are now operating with 50 employees who have been taken from various prefectural services. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry yesterday approved the recruitment of another 80 contract workers to staff a total of five service centers. However, the recruitment process will take 52 days to complete, during which time the regulations for the operation of the centers will have been finalized. Their safety is also a matter which will be addressed, following accusations that center employees have received frequent threats from legal circles. Indeed, these charges were forwarded to Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos by senior officials at the Athens prefect’s office. Sources say that a prosecutor is investigating the allegations. In any case, the prefect’s office has prioritized the full operation of the centers as it is expecting to handle around 250,000 applications for work permits in 2003. A total of 550,000 immigrants countrywide are expected to apply for the renewal and issuance of new work and residence permits. Also yesterday – along with the approval of reforms for a six-month extension for all residence permits – circulars were due to be sent to various border crossings approving the entry of migrants into Greece.

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