Athens: no room for Iraqi refugees

The government said yesterday it is determined not to let in any war refugees from Iraq, but will join other European Union states in helping Iraq’s neighbors provide temporary shelter to people fleeing the war there. Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis and Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos met PM Costas Simitis yesterday to discuss the Greek position ahead of an unofficial meeting of EU ministers in Veria, northern Greece, today and tomorrow. The meeting’s agenda, set a while ago, included discussion on illegal immigrants, but it will also deal with the prospect of a mass exodus of people from Iraq. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, will attend. International aid agency estimates put the number of people that will try to flee Iraq in the coming two months at 600,000. Of these, 200,000 are expected to cross into Europe via Turkey. Despite talk of preparing army camps to accommodate refugees, the government precluded accepting any new refugees. Chrysochoidis said the EU has already decided to provide assistance to Iraq’s neighbors. Chrysochoidis had said last year that Greece, home to an estimated 1 million economic migrants, could not afford to host any additional refugees. Other EU countries, Germany and the UK first and foremost, have taken a tough stance against admitting Iraqi refugees, drawing criticism yesterday from Amnesty International.

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