Focus on immigration

Responding to growing pressure to tackle a burgeoning problem with illegal immigration, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos yesterday heralded the imposition of tougher sentences to discourage human smugglers and the creation of reception centers where undocumented migrants would be held for up to 12 months until their fate is decided. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sent a letter to Jan Fischer, his counterpart in the Czech Republic, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, asking for the union’s full support in curbing the migration flows that have hit countries like Greece, Italy and Spain particularly hard. «The big issue that Greece and other EU countries face is the uncontrolled entry of illegal immigrants at Europe’s borders, mainly through people smugglers,» Pavlopoulos said after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, noting that traffickers would face felony rather than misdemeanor charges which carry heavy jail terms. The minister added that he would press EU officials at a summit next week for the signing of repatriation agreements with migrants’ countries of origin and urge Turkey to honor a bilateral pact with Greece for migrants’ repatriation. Pavlopoulos added that the government would push ahead with stalled plans to build a mosque for the capital’s Muslims in the central Votanikos area and a Muslim cemetery in Schisto, western Attica. The government’s proposals attracted strong opposition criticism. George Papandreou, the leader of Socialist PASOK, described the measures as «sketchy and inadequate» and proposed instead an eight-point plan foreseeing the boosting of border controls and a drive to upgrade parts of the capital that have turned into ghettos for migrants. The Communist Party accused the government of seeking to imprison migrants in «concentration camps.» Speaking to reporters after the Cabinet meeting, Pavlopoulos insisted that the new measures were not a reaction to the government’s losses in last Sunday’s European Parliament elections and to the gains made by the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS).