Minister stresses need for more border patrols

Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis on Friday stressed the need for more personnel for patrolling the country’s land and sea borders to combat illegal migration, despite calls by Greece’s creditors for public spending cuts.

Papoutsis classified illegal immigration as a «national priority,» noting that Greece has already received 42 million euros in European Union funding that has gone toward designing and operating a «complete system» for securing the bloc’s southeast border.

Papoutsis reiterated demands for amendments to be made the European Union’s Dublin II Regulation, which effectively places the onus of asylum applications on the EU member state through which undocumented migrants first enter the bloc and allows other EU member states to send undocumented migrants back to the point of entry for processing.

“Not a single meeting of the European Council and EU ministers has taken place without me making this request. Another 10 countries recognize the need for a change to the regulation, but there is a long way to go before all 27 member states agree,» he said.

Papoutsis defended his ministry’s record in regards to clamping down on illegal migration so far, saying «we have not swept the issue under the rug. Over 17,000 asylum applications have been examined and processed within a few months. Within February we will activate 10 more committees in order to speed up the process further.”

Papoutsis also said that «in 2011 more than 100,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested,» demurring that «we could have done better, but they have to be held somewhere.» The minister added that efforts are being made to ensure that all 14 of the country’s immigrant detention centers, which have come under fire from rights groups for often deplorable holding conditions, become fully operational within their legal guidelines.

The citizens’ protection minister further expressed some skepticism in regards to a proposal by the Ministry of Justice to downgrade the crime of human trafficking from a felony to a misdemeanor in a drive to free up space in the country’s prisons.