NEWS

Curbs on illegal immigration

The government is planning a crackdown on illegal immigration. On the agenda are stricter measures to prevent migrants from entering Greece, reception infrastructure for migrants, integration policies for legal migrants and new measures to deal with the next batch of illegal incomers. On November 28, government officials will meet to discuss the issue, just days before the forthcoming EU summit meeting where Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis will raise the issue of illegal immigration in the hope of establishing a common policy and designing measures to assist countries under the heaviest pressure to accept migrants. The premier wants it made clear that while Greece will offer humanitarian assistance to the limits of its ability when necessary and will meet its obligations according to international conventions, it will not accept floods of refugees and illegal migrants seeking entrance into Europe. Recommendations Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis is working with the Public Order, Foreign and Health ministries on proposals for streamlining and expediting political asylum procedures, added support and cooperation with the police and coast guard – especially on the islands – and the creation of reception centers for refugees. There is also the issue of thousands of migrants in Greece whose presence is illegal, because they arrived after the legalization process or have not participated in or completed it. Almost certainly, very few of them will be granted political asylum and some will be sent back to the countries they came from, in the case of Bulgaria and Albania, which have signed agreements to that effect. The agreement signed last week with Turkey is highly significant, since most of the migrants who land on Greek islands come via Turkey. The reality The issue of legal migrant processing is of equal importance. Their number is around 700,000 and expected to increase, since Greece cannot hope to deal with further influxes of migrants solely by returning them to their place of departure. More government officials seem to have accepted that as a result of international developments new groups will settle here, giving Greek society a multicultural character. So government policy is moving away from a one-off legalization process to a long-term policy and measures for integrating migrants. So far, its approach has been the sparing acceptance of applications for political asylum ( to only one in 10 refugees who apply – the lowest ratio in the EU), and sending back illegal migrants, chiefly to Albania, Bulgaria and some African countries. In the case of the large number of migrants from Iraq, Kurds from Turkey and Iraq, and refugees from countries at war, Greece grants temporary permits, usually for three months, so that the migrants can leave the country, which they don’t usually do, and even when they do, more arrivals soon take their place. Helping tourists and chasing ‘political refugees’ in a gale By Nikos Bardounias Kathimerini Kos – The 714 people who were saved from a ship in wild seas off Zakynthos are now enjoying Greek hospitality while waiting to learn whether they will be expelled or permitted to stay in Greece as political refugees. Meanwhile, the battle against human traffickers bringing in illegal immigrants continues unabated. Coast guard officials on Kos, Chios, Samos and Mytilene usually manage to prevent boats from landing with their human cargo, but on other occasions they witness shocking events. Kathimerini observed some of these scenes. After several days of fine weather, the sky became overcast, visibility was practically nil and the sea was rough. A crew on the lookout for illegal craft picked up a radar signal indicating a craft nearby. The captain instructed his crew and sent a message to the coast guard center. The search The coast guard crew sped after its target, a small plastic boat carrying three people. Shivering, their lips blue from the cold, the three passengers explained that they were Afghans, and that another three people had been swept away by the sea. The search for the missing passengers began at once, and soon one body was found floating lifeless in the water; the other two passengers were clinging to a tiny plastic boat. They were chilled, half-conscious and unable to speak. The coast guard officials hauled them aboard, wrapped them in blankets to bring them round and took them to the hospital for first aid. It was another tough night for the crews of the coast guard craft that patrol the sea of Kos. These everyday heroes don’t talk a lot and don’t ask for much, either. All they want is for the State to honor its commitments to them. We’re here because we love the job, we love the sea and we love what we do. We just want more staff so that we can be more effective, says one crew member. The danger Some time ago we located a boat carrying illegal migrants. As we approached, the waves caught the boat and hurled it against our craft. The boat overturned and the passengers barely managed to grab hold of the ropes we threw them, says one coast guard official. But one child couldn’t do it and the sea dragged him in. Then, a colleague from the Special Forces instinctively jumped in, even though he was wearing a bullet-proof jacket. With the help of another colleague, he eventually managed to save the child. When we brought him on board, his mother knelt down and tried to kiss our hands and feet, speaking to us in her own language. We could hardly get her to stand up. As long as we were at the coast guard office, this woman glowed with joy whenever she saw us. In the end we got a smile, which was the greatest satisfaction. On Kos, where successive waves of migrants come ashore, the coast guard and the police work closely together. But there aren’t enough police officers, so those on duty work long hours. We manage quite well, despite the staff shortage, says one of them, adding: But we need more people, because we don’t just have illegal immigration. Kos is an island that has tourism almost half the year, and we are needed everywhere. But if there aren’t enough officers, we overwork, which isn’t good for the work and it has exhausted our people. Kos Mayor Miltiades Fakkos greeted Kathimerini in his office in a well-maintained old building overlooking the island’s beautiful harbor. Polite, smiling, and informed on the issue of illegal migrants, Fakkos spoke openly on the topic in terms of the island’s interests. The illegal entry to Greece of foreigners almost every day is a serious problem. We help them as much as we can afford to, but the municipal council rejected a proposal by the UN High Commissioner for a migrant reception center on the island. Fakkos is keen to make the point that this refusal does not mean the islanders respond negatively to migrants. The islanders help in any way they can. They bring food, clothing and medicine, but almost none of them wants the foreigners to stay on the island for a long time, says the mayor. The economic cost of feeding and caring for the migrants is too high for our municipality.>