Immigration progress expected

Buoyed by an agreement among European Union leaders on Friday that all countries, including Turkey, should be pushed to uphold migrant repatriation agreements, Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis said yesterday that he expects «visible results» in Greece’s immigration problem as of September. «I would like to believe that when we are ready, when we have the reception centers that we are getting ready, when we start a process of speedier repatriation, things will improve greatly,» he said during a visit to his home island of Crete. It was decided in Brussels that the EU should seek to forge new repatriation pacts with migrants’ countries of origin and with «transit countries» such as Turkey and Libya. In addition, existing bilateral pacts on repatriation, such as the one signed by Greece and Turkey in 2003, should be honored, the EU leaders agreed. A draft law that proposes stiffer penalties for people smugglers, transforming their offense from a misdemeanor to a felony, is due to be discussed in Parliament tomorrow. «Up until now, we have seen that many are arrested – just this year almost 500 have been caught – mostly smuggling illegal immigrants from Turkey, but none have been sent to jail,» said Markoyiannakis. «We think that the penalties foreseen in the bill will act as a deterrent and there will be a reduction in the flow of migrants from the east.» Last year, almost 150,000 illegal immigrants and more than 2,000 traffickers were arrested in Greece. It is not clear how many of the alleged smugglers were jailed. Markoyiannakis rejected criticism from PASOK on the government’s immigration policy by saying that previous Socialist governments had been wrong to sign Greece up to the EU’s Dublin Regulation, which means that the member state where an asylum seeker first enters the Union is also the country responsible for registering him and examining the application.