NEWS

Gov’t prepares for wave of illegal immigrants

Government officials on Thursday said that Greece cannot open its borders to thousands of economic migrants arriving from the Middle East or offer legal status indiscriminately to migrants living in the country.

Speaking from Rome following talks with five of his European Union counterparts, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said they had agreed that Europe ?will not tolerate an uncontrollable influx of illegal immigrants crossing its external borders and staying on its territory.?

In a joint statement, the ministers from Greece, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, France and Spain noted that the EU?s borders were already under pressure from a large influx of would-be migrants from Tunisia, where pro-reform protesters brought down the government last month, and would come under further pressure from citizens of other Arab states currently in turmoil. The joint communique warned that such an influx could entail ?serious consequences and potential risks to the EU?s internal security.?

Greece also faced negative repercussions on its crucial tourism sector as migrants often enter Greece via the Aegean islands, Papoutsis said.

Meanwhile in Athens, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis called on 237 undocumented immigrants who have entered the fourth week of a hunger strike to call off their protest, saying that the government could not grant them the legal status they demand.

?We cannot do mass legalizations; it would be a major risk,? Ragousis said, noting that the hunger strikers might be given a six-month grace period. The minister said that boatloads of immigrants from Africa were expected to reach Greece soon. ?If they go on hunger strike too, what do we do?? he said.

In a related development, a prosecutor on Thursday brought criminal charges of dereliction of duty against Athens University Rector Theodoros Pelegrinis in connection with a sitin at the Athens Law School last month by the hunger strikers. The prosecutor charged another eight people, believed to have gotten the migrants into the Law School, with disturbing the peace and damaging public property.