NEWS

Ministry about-turn on Agathonisi

The Merchant Marine Ministry yesterday pledged to immediately create a permanent coast guard facility on the tiny Aegean island of Agathonisi, which has been overwhelmed by an influx of illegal immigrants. The initiative, which is to begin with the transfer to the island of two permanent coast guard officials in the next couple of days, came just one day after authorities on the island complained at having been asked to finance a facility themselves. A source at the ministry yesterday told Kathimerini that a «bureaucratic error» was to blame for a letter sent to island authorities last week. The source clarified that a second letter was sent to authorities on the island, asking them to provide the ministry with an estimate of the operating costs of a local facility. The original letter from the ministry’s projects department, which the ministry has blamed on a bureaucratic error, read as follows: «Please let us know immediately whether the community of Agathonisi would be able to cover the cost of renting premises, the necessary equipment (furniture, computers, air conditioning etc) as well as operating expenses (electricity, water, telephone).» The island’s community leader, Evangelos Kottoros, told Kathimerini that locals do not have the financial capacity to cover the cost of such a facility. In a related development, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Greece would seek the help of Frontex, the European Union agency overseeing border security, to curb an influx of illegal immigrants that exceeded 140,000 last year. Bakoyannis heralded the measure following an emergency meeting with Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos late on Tuesday. Another issue discussed at the meeting was the repatriation of illegal immigrants other than those who are eligible for refugee status, Bakoyannis added.