Minister defends deal to end migrants’ hunger strike

Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis has denied that the government has given in to blackmail by allowing some 300 hunger striking immigrants to stay in Greece.

Ragousis, who reached a deal with the migrants on Wednesday evening stressed that the government had not given the protestors the residence permits they were demanding.

?We did not give them residence permits, not even the promise that we would do so,? he told Skai TV on Thursday morning. ?This situation has ended without the loss of life and Greece is now calm.?

The ministry?s offer gives the migrants, who were on hunger strikes for 44 days, a six-month grace period to remain in the country. This can be renewed every six months. 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. The minister said this was in line with EU regulations.

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.

He also agreed to a reduction in the number of social security credits needed to renew residence permits.

Ragousis said that he was determined the government should not copy the previous New Democracy administration?s decision to award residence permits to hunger strikers on Crete.

?The protestors were until yesterday demanding legal status and residence permits to end their protest,? he said. ?This was because in January 2009, 18 Moroccans from Hania managed to gain residence permits in exchange for ending their hunger strike.

?The important thing is that Greece sends a clear message that it will not hand out permits regardless of how much pressure it comes under.?

Ragousis?s explanation, however, was rejected by New Democracy, which accused him of giving in to pressure. ?The government has given the impression that it has succumbed to blatant blackmail,? said conservative deputy Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

?Things may be calm today but wait to see what will happen in the days to come,? he told Skai TV. ?I have the impression that the back door has opened.?

The leader of the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally, Giorgos Karatzaferis, went a step further in his criticism of the government during a debate in Parliament late on Wednesday.

?All this is working against the interests of our democracy and the pride of Greeks,? he said. ?How did we end up at this massive climbdown? Are we going to make an effort to stop our nation being conned??

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