State scheme to regulate migrant returns ?at risk?

A state-backed scheme for the voluntary repatriation of immigrants to their homelands aims to return 7,000 people to their countries of origin over the next year, Kathimerini has learned, though the head of the organization leading the initiative has expressed concerns that an unprecedented police crackdown on migrants could discourage many people from participating in the scheme.

Following the repatriation of around 3,500 immigrants in the first six months of this year, the Public Order Ministry and the Greek office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are planning to double this figure over the next 11 months, returning 7,000 migrants home.

The returns between January and August were funded with 5 million euros in European Union subsidies while another 10 million euros has been set aside for the next phase of voluntary repatriations, Kathimerini understands.

Daniel Esdras, the director of IOM?s Greek branch, told Kathimerini that there was strong interest in the ministry-backed repatriation program with around 50 migrants submitting applications daily. But he expressed the fear that the police sweeps launched over the past few days, and subsequent deportations, may make would-be participants think again about signing on. ?The more they are arrested and detained, the less likely they will be to cooperate with us for inclusion in the program,? Esdras said.

Police detained around 6,000 migrants in an unprecedented crackdown in Athens over the weekend. Most were released but some 1,400 are to be kept in custody pending deportation.

Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias defended the operation in comments to Skai television, saying that failure to curb an influx of immigrants could lead Greece to collapse. ?Our social fabric is at risk of unravelling,? he said, noting that ?the immigration problem is perhaps even greater than the financial one.?

Describing the immigration problem as ?a bomb at the foundations of the state and society,? he said he would resign if he were stopped from doing his job.

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