OPINION

Illegal immigration an EU issue

As a major gateway for illegal immigration, Greece has come under increasing pressure, although it is not a final destination. The problem is a European one and should be dealt with as such. Most certainly, measures must be taken also on a national level, but a realistic, common EU immigration policy, funded from community coffers, is the only way to tackle the issue. There is a chance that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will be able to negotiate such an agreement at the European Union summit, but he should not be drawn into generalizations. Any conclusions need to be specific and clear, and Greece needs to be upfront about its intentions. There is a great deal of room for alliances with other member states that are transit points on the migration route, but also with those that are destinations. Even the most reluctant governments can be swayed if Athens warns them that it will no longer act as a barrier and pay for it out of its own pocket. Stricter border patrols with the direct involvement of European forces are necessary, but will not suffice to stem the flow of illegal migrants, because the crux of the problem lies in the creation of an effective European mechanism of repatriation. The first part of such a program would entail coordinated charter flights to the countries of origin. The second would involve an accord with the transit countries outside Europe, which would accept to take back migrants that entered Europe through their borders. Turkey is one such country, and Europe needs to tell Ankara that either it cooperates on illegal migration or its accession status will be adversely affected. Cooperation in this case means stemming the flow into Greece and implementing a protocol for taking migrants back. On a national level, selectively issuing residence and work permits will help combat illegal labor practices. Greece also has a duty to protect refugees and asylum seekers, but it needs to amend the process and speed up procedures so that the system is not abused.