NEWS

PM: No more migrants

As police and coast guard officers scoured the rugged coast of southern Crete yesterday for an estimated 200 illegal immigrants set ashore by people-smugglers, Prime Minister Costas Simitis promised a crackdown on illegal immigration, warning of a looming internal threat. There is a limit to the number of immigrants each country can receive, Simitis told journalists after chairing a broad interministerial conference on illegal immigration. We will not allow Greece to become a trespasser’s heaven, he said. Immigration must be legal and controlled. Illegal immigration cannot be accepted, for otherwise there loom threats within the country which we must prevent. He did not elaborate. In last month’s first Cabinet session after the government reshuffle in October, Simitis named illegal immigration, along with terrorism and the 2004 Olympics, as Greece’s prime security concerns for the immediate future. Over 205,000 people have been arrested this year for entering Greece illegally by land, while between 7,000-10,000 – according to the PM – have been caught arriving by sea. Yesterday, Simitis said the arrest total is expected to reach 250,000 by the end of the year. Our forecasts are gloomy, for we expect an increase in the number of people illegally entering Greece due to developments in Asia, he said. The PM called for closer cooperation between European Union members to guard EU borders, proposing the creation of a special force of border guards. We are also working to create a means of funding the repatriation of illegal immigrants arrested while slipping into the country, he said. Simitis added that the Greek armed forces would work with police and border guards to curb illegal immigration, while the process of granting political asylum would be accelerated and stricter punishment would be meted out to traffickers. We want to protect social cohesion and solidarity and instill a feeling of security among our citizens, he said. Meanwhile in Crete, by late yesterday police and coast guard had rounded up 80 illegal immigrants from Iraq and Nigeria, and were searching for the rest of the estimated 200 people who landed early that morning off the Syrian-flagged Wael IV freighter – which ran aground just offshore. The authorities arrested the ship’s captain, Bader Labbadi, 58, and seven crew members. The Wael is believed to have set sail from a Turkish port 11 days ago. Last week, it passed south of the Peloponnese under close surveillance by coast guard and naval vessels, which resupplied and refueled the freighter that was then believed to be carrying 500 people. It had been last seen heading for Italy. Farmers’ protests. Farmers’ unions in the northern prefecture of Macedonia decided yesterday to hold three days of demonstrations from December 10-12 against low cotton prices, by moving tractors onto highways at major intersections.