‘No amnesty’ for migrants on hunger strike

The government has ruled out an amnesty for illegal immigrants after 287 migrants began a hunger strike in Athens and Thessaloniki yesterday and insisted that they were prepared to die trying to get a residence permit.

The Interior Ministry said that it would not launch a ?mass legalization? program for undocumented foreigners living in Greece. It said that two amnesty drives by the previous New Democracy government had led to 150,000 people ?indiscriminately? obtaining the right to remain in the country.

However, the 237 immigrants who have gathered at Athens University?s Law School and another 50 who have congregated at a union building in Thessaloniki say they are determined to go ahead with what has been described as ?the largest ever mass hunger strike by migrants in Europe.?

?There is no going back for us,? hunger striker Mustafa Halfoun told The Associated Press. ?We will win this fight or we will die.?

?We are only taking sugar and water, and we will stop that too if no one pays attention to us,? he said. ?We have decided to take this action because we have no other options.?

Most of the immigrants are from North Africa but had been working on Crete.

?They have decided to take this action because they need to be able to work and get social security credits and to be treated at public hospitals,? said Markos Hatzisavvas of the Hania Immigrants Forum at a news conference in the Law School building where the migrants are staying. Greece?s university asylum law means that police cannot enter the institution?s grounds unless a serious crime is being committed.

?It is an honor to have the immigrants here,? said law student Petros Saltamouris. ?University asylum is not just for students, it?s for everyone who needs it.?

The migrants? protest is being supported by leftist groups but has drawn criticism from New Democracy, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and Democratic Alliance. The parties were angered by the fact a building belonging to a state-funded university is being used for the protest.

Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou also condemned the migrants? action and suggested that they were being used by leftist groups. ?These unfortunate people did not find themselves in the Law School by chance, they were guided there,? she said. ?It is outrageous that political powers are taking advantage of human exasperation in such a provocative way.?

Diamantopoulou said the Law School had been turned into a ?camp? and called on university officials to take the necessary steps to invite the police onto the institution?s grounds, as the asylum law allows.