NEWS

Migrants feared drowned in Ionian

The majority of Greeks agree with the government?s plans to build a 12.5-kilometer fence on the country?s northeastern border to stem illegal immigration, according to the results of an opinion poll published on Sunday as rescue teams searched in the sea off Corfu for 22 migrants missing after their boat ran into trouble.

The 22 immigrants are believed to have fallen into the Ionian Sea when the wooden trawler they were sailing in with another 241 people ran into trouble about 30 nautical miles from Corfu on Saturday night. The Coast guard said that it was notified by one of the passengers but that it took several hours for a rescue operation to be launched because of the adverse weather conditions.

The 241 migrants were taken on board a Dutch cargo ship that took them to Corfu. Eleven people were taken to the hospital for treatment. It is believed that all the migrants are from Afghanistan. Authorities believe that two of those rescued are the Turkish people smugglers that were trying to sail the migrants from Greece to Italy. Some of the immigrants said they had paid 3,000 euros for the illicit journey.

The incident is likely to fuel the immigration debate, which has dominated headlines in recent days following the government?s announcement that it intends to build a fence on the Evros border.

According to a Public Issue poll conducted for Sunday?s Kathimerini, 87 percent of people questioned said they are aware of the issue and 39 percent said they ?definitely agreed? with the government?s plan. Another 20 percent said they ?probably agreed? with the fence. Only 21 percent said they ?definitely disagreed.? Of the 523 respondents, 15 percent said that measures like the fence could ?definitely? stem the tide of illegal immigration, while 41 percent said it would ?probably? lead to a drop in the number of illegal migrants entering the country.

The plans to erect a barrier in Evros led to two rival rallies being held in Athens on Saturday. The tension that the issue is causing was most evident in the neighborhood of Aghios Panteleimonas, where a group of some 300 people, including members of the far-right Chryssi Avgi group, were protesting against the presence of immigrants in Greece. They clashed with police who prevented them from approaching people who had been taking part in another rally in central Athens to defend migrants and protest plans to build the fence. Police said that 13 people, mostly right-wing extremists, were arrested.