New bid for city cleanup

Prime Minister George Papandreou is this week to chair a Cabinet meeting aimed at addressing the growing problem of crime and general degradation in the city’s historic center, Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Spyros Vougias told Skai Radio yesterday, noting that an action plan involving seven different ministries had been drawn up and was ready for implementation. «We must restore Athens to the state it was prior to 2004,» Vougias told Skai, referring to the radical makeover undergone by the Greek capital for the Olympic Games. Vougias said his ministry had taken «an holistic approach» to tackling problems in the historic center where prostitution, drug dealing and the trade in counterfeit goods are rife and thousands of undocumented immigrants scrape out a living, residing in run-down hotels and derelict buildings. The ministry is drawing on a special report on the current state of the historic center prepared by Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis. The deputy minister said that a special committee would be set up to oversee the cleanup of the area. He said the powers of municipal police officers who patrol the area would be boosted but noted that the problem was «a complex one and cannot be solved through policing alone.» Vougias explained that a major factor perpetuating the state of affairs is the relentless influx of undocumented immigrants entering Greece, as most of them end up in the city center and resort to illicit trades to make money. The activities of two criminal rings involving Moroccan and Algerian immigrants are a particular challenge for police. «We can’t handle such a large number of immigrants, and most of them feel trapped in Greece,» Vougias said, noting that most migrants aim to travel on to Western Europe but end up staying in Greece due to a European Union directive dictating that migrants must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter. Last month the Greek Police (ELAS) heralded the creation of a new unit of 300 officers to be permanently stationed in the historic center. The officers’ priority is to curb drug dealing and prostitution and to crack down on rings of robbers and muggers that have been targeting stores and pedestrians in the area with increasing frequency in recent months.

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