Hunger strikers end protest after reaching compromise

Almost 300 immigrants who have been on hunger strike for 44 days in Athens and Thessaloniki ended their protest on Wednesday evening after accepting an offer from the government that will allow them to stay in Greece at least temporarily and which makes it easier for them to renew their residence permits.

The immigrants, mostly from North African countries, had been demanding that the government renew their permits automatically because they could not earn the social security credits needed due to a lack of work.

The Interior Ministry had made it clear from the start of the protest, in January, that it would not concede to this demand but yesterday managed to produce a set of proposals that were enough to convince the migrants that they should end their campaign.

The ministry?s offer gives the migrants a six-month grace period, which can be renewed every six months, to remain in the country. It also allows them to continue working in Greece and to return to their homelands on humanitarian grounds without fear of being barred from re-entering the country.

Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis also agreed to change the law on giving legal status to immigrants who have been living in Greece illegally. Currently, the law demands that migrants prove they have been in Greece for at least 12 years before they can receive special dispensation. Under Wednesday?s proposals, this period will be reduced to eight years but Ragousis did not set a time frame for the change to take place.

He also agreed to a reduction in the number of social security credits needed to renew residence permits. Those with one-year permits will need credits for 120 days of work rather than 200. Those who have two-year permits will require 240 rather than 400. This applies to applicants who have steady jobs. Those working for several employers will need 120 or 240 credits, depending on the length of their permit.

A total of 237 migrants have been protesting in Athens and 50 in Thessaloniki. More than 100 of them have been admitted to hospital.

?It is clear that long, hard struggles will be needed to end the discrimination against foreign workers who live in Greece and Europe,? the migrants and their supporters said in a statement. ?Undoubtedly, though, the selflessness of the 300 has opened a path of hope.?

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