No more room for immigrants

Faced with an increased wave of illegal immigration across its eastern borders in combination with Turkey’s failure to honor bilateral agreements on stemming the flow, Greece warned yesterday that it is full to bursting and can take in no more migrants. «For the next few years, Greece will not be able to absorb more economic immigrants,» Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told the Ta Nea daily in an interview published yesterday. «An exception will be made, of course, for those who are persecuted for their beliefs. But at this point, 700,000 legal immigrants are living in our country. There is no longer any space for more.» Chrysochoidis warned of disastrous social consequences unless the tide – over the holiday weekend approximately 130 people were arrested trying to enter Greece via a variety of seaborne means – is stopped. «If we continue to accept waves of economic immigrants, we will not be able to incorporate them smoothly into our society,» he said. «The result will be negative for Greeks and immigrants alike.» Greek authorities on the Thracian border believe up to 300,000 illegal immigrants could try to enter the country over the next few weeks, encouraged by the low level of the Evros River. Large numbers of illegal immigrants are already being held in eastern Thrace, in often insalubrious conditions. Yesterday, police recaptured most of a 160-strong group of illegal immigrants who broke out of a detention center in Sapes on Monday night after guards ignored complaints that they were too hot. A total of 210 people were held in the center. The recaptured immigrants are now being held in a local soccer stadium. Athens accuses Ankara of turning a blind eye to immigrants heading for Greece, and ignoring a bilateral agreement under which Turkey is obliged to take back illegal immigrants who cross its borders into Greece. «There is a very big problem in Thrace,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said yesterday. «A mass attempt is under way by immigrants to cross the Evros… We are stretching our resources to the uttermost. But we wish to stress that Turkey must assume its responsibilities and honor the agreement it signed.»