A new government program has been designed to facilitate the social integration of hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in Greece, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos told a conference on migration issues yesterday. The minister also heralded a new draft law, to be submitted in Parliament next month, «which aims to remove the last few bureaucratic hurdles… faced by immigrants trying to gain official legal status in Greece.» An influx of immigrants into Greece between 1991 and 2001 caused the population to swell by around 700,000 and at least another 170,000 are believed to have settled since 2001, according to the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO), which staged yesterday’s conference. «The immigration issue is a problem for which we have no solution,» the president of IMEPO, Alexandros Zavos, told the conference. «But it could also be a blessing. By effectively managing immigration, Greece could acquire a central role in the Balkans,» Zavos added, without elaborating. The ultimate aim of the government’s policy in this area is to integrate immigrants «so that Greek society can develop while showing social sensitivity and fairness,» Pavlopoulos said. Over the past few years, a large proportion of Albanian immigrants living in Greece have been repatriated. Repatriation is one of the central axes of the European Union’s immigration policy but was not addressed in detail at the conference. Meanwhile, a biministerial decision made public yesterday outlined the procedure for immigrants wanting to acquire a certificate of competence in the Greek language, which is necessary in applications for extended residence permits. Candidates must have reached the fourth (Delta) stage of the Education Ministry’s adult education program or have a certificate demonstrating the same level of knowledge. Examinations will be held twice a year, every February and October, and will test writing and comprehension skills as well as oral competence and knowledge of Greek history and culture.