Greek authorities round up thousands of illegal immigrants
Authorities in Greece have rounded up thousands of suspected illegal immigrants in a large-scale deportation drive.
Police said yesterday that 6,000 people were detained over the weekend in Athens in a major operation incongruously named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios.
Officers across the city were seen stopping mostly African and Asian people in the street for identification checks. Most were only briefly detained, but about 1,600 were arrested for illegally entering Greece and were sent to holding centres pending deportation.
Left-wing opposition parties criticised the crackdown, while the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees voiced concern that migrants from war-torn countries and other genuine asylum-seekers could be denied the right of protection.
About 100,000 illegal immigrants are estimated to enter Greece every year, mostly from neighbouring Turkey, and up to a million are believed to live in Greece, which has an official population of about ten million.
The influx, which coincided with a recent spike in crime, contributed to the sharp rise of an extreme-right political party which uses aggressive rhetoric against immigrants. Once beyond the pale of Greek politics, Golden Dawn gained nearly 7 per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections six weeks ago. Mainstream parties also pledged to curtail immigrant flows.
Public order minister Nikos Dendias said the rounding-up of illegal immigrants would continue, arguing that their unchecked entry has brought Greece “to the brink of collapse”.
He said: “The country is being lost. What is happening now is [Greece’s] greatest invasion ever.”
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