Help on migrants sought

The government yesterday defended its record in handling a rising tide of would-be migrants but pledged to investigate claims by a human rights group that border authorities had mistreated visitors entering the country illegally. Four senior Cabinet ministers stressed that Greece is doing its best to handle a «European problem,» following the release on Monday of a report by German-based human rights group Pro Asyl alleging that Greek port authority officials have physically abused incoming migrants to gain information about smugglers. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis defended the methods of coast guard officers who «exercise their duties with human rights as a priority» and said the behavior referred to in the report «is not characteristic of the coast guard, if indeed it exists.» However the minister said the allegations were «extremely serious» and ordered an internal investigation to identify any offenders. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis called for more European support. «Greece cannot handle any more illegal immigrants,» Bakoyannis said. She urged «very close coordination between domestic services in cooperation with the European Union» as well as EU investment in a common coast guard. As many incoming migrants are on their way to Western Europe «this is not just a Greek problem… but an issue that concerns the whole of Europe,» Bakoyannis said. Her comments were reiterated by government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, who called for «coordination on a broader European scale.» Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos also stressed the need for EU support. «Monitoring and tackling this phenomenon demands European involvement and concerns us all,» Pavlopoulos said in a letter to Jean-Marie Cavada, the president of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee. Greek taxpayers are shouldering a burden that should be shared by all European citizens, Pavlopoulos added, noting that 13,151 illegal immigrants entered the country last month alone.