Only a few days after the consternation caused by a large group of migrants who occupied Athens University’s Law School as part of a protest against immigration policy, Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis reignited the debate on Friday, likening illegal immigration to a bomb but saying that the police have to be very careful about how they tackles the matter.
«The immigration issue is huge for Greek society,» he said at a conference of police officers. «In reality, it is a bomb for Greek society but it is a phenomenon that is not just local, it has to do with the whole of Europe.
«That’s why we have raised the immigration issue with the European Union.»
Papoutsis’s comments came a week after 237 migrants from North Africa who had been occupying a building at Athens University for five days were moved to another location following lengthy negotiations with authorities.
The incident led to a full-scale row with New Democracy, which blasted the government for failing to intervene to remove the migrants. PASOK was reluctant to send in the police because it was concerned about being seen to disregard the university asylum law that restricts authorities’ access to campuses.
The argument continued yesterday when conservative deputy Thanassis Nakos asked in Parliament why Papoutsis did not order the police to act.
«The immigrants that occupied the Law School were not illegals,» said the minister. «They had been living and working in Greece for several years but who now do not have a residence permit because the economic crisis meant that they did not secure enough work last year to gain the 250 social security credits they need.»
«Do you want the police to round up anybody who does not manage to collect the necessary social security credits?» asked Papoutsis.
«The police are not the solution,» he told Nakos. «The police may be the sword and shield of the law but the sword must remain sheathed when other, milder, solutions can be found.»
Meanwhile, the Citizens’ Protection Ministry said the committees that will take over from the police the job of examining asylum applications would begin work next week. There are currently 46,435 outstanding applications from would-be refugees.