Greece still gateway for migrants

The European Union’s border-monitoring agency Frontex said yesterday that fewer would-be migrants tried to enter Greece illegally last year but noted that the country remains the preferred gateway of immigrants seeking a better life in Europe. According to Frontex figures for 2009, 48,000 would-be migrants entered Greece illegally by land and a further 30,400 by sea last year, as compared to 56,000 and 31,700 respectively in 2008. The figures for immigrants trying to enter Greece in 2009 represent 50 percent of the total number trying to enter EU countries, down from 75 percent of the total in 2008, Gil Arias Fernandez, deputy executive director of Frontex, told reporters in Athens. «Despite a significant drop in 2009, Greek borders remain the principal entry point for illegal immigrants in Europe,» Arias Fernandez said. He said Frontex was due to open an operational office for Southeastern Europe in Piraeus by next month. Lack of job opportunities in EU countries, suffering the repercussions of the global financial crisis, is a key factor for the drop, the Frontex official noted. He added that measures taken by Libya, Mauritania and Senegal to prevent illegal immigrants from leaving their countries in the first place had also helped stem the flow. In a related development, the Athens office of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported a 25 percent increase in the number of undocumented immigrants arrested at Greece’s land and sea borders. The UNHCR’s Athens office added that the rate of approval for migrants applying for political asylum in Greece remained low with more than 48,000 applications currently pending. Many awaiting the processing of their asylum applications live in cramped and unsanitary conditions in the city center. Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Spyros Vougias yesterday described the burgeoning population of undocumented migrants in the city center as a «huge social problem.»