NEWS

Migrant influx ebbing?

As a cross-party foreign policy committee discussed which former army barracks will be used as temporary reception centers for thousands of illegal immigrants, government sources revealed fresh statistics suggesting that the influx of undocumented visitors from neighboring Turkey has ebbed. According to figures seen by Kathimerini, the coast guard arrested 215 would-be migrants in the first week of July, less than half the 474 arrested in the first week of June. The first week of July 2008 saw 454 illegal immigrants intercepted by coast guard vessels. The new figures are said to have fueled hope within the government’s ranks that Turkish authorities have cracked down on human traffickers organizing the transfer of illegal immigrants to Greece following increased pressure from the European Commission. Sources told Kathimerini that it is still too early to draw any firm conclusions but that the initial signs are encouraging. Meanwhile, members of the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA) reportedly inspected a list of disused army barracks that have been proposed as temporary reception centers for thousands of migrants awaiting the processing of their asylum applications. Certain sites were crossed off the list immediately, as they are either«inappropriate» or cannot be vacated. According to sources, KYSEA is leaning toward the approval of sites located far from residential areas so as not to provoke protests. One likely choice is a disused military site on the island of Evia. Speaking after the KYSEA session, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that a scheduled meeting of EU ministers in Stockholm on July 16 would be an opportunity for Greece to emphasize the importance of Ankara honoring a bilateral pact for the repatriation of migrants signed with Athens in 2001. Another issue discussed at the KYSEA session was the assumption of the command of a key NATO base in Larissa, central Greece, by a Turkish national. Defense Minister Evangelos Meimarakis stressed that the remit of the Turkish commander’s competence does not include Greek air space.