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A new Greek law increases the amount of time illegal immigrants can be detained.
In recent years, Greece has faced a massive spike in illegal immigration and asylum claims, as more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East find their way to Greece by sea and over the country’s land border with Turkey. The government says it is unable to cope with the growing numbers. Last year, nearly 150,000 illegal immigrants were arrested in Greece, although so far this year there has been a slight decline.
The government was slow to respond to the problem, but has recently bumped up diplomacy efforts in an effort to force other European Union countries to shoulder more of the burden and force Turkey to abide by a repatriation agreement.
The move toward detention comes in response to fears that destitute migrants have been resorting to crime and to recent protests in central Athens by Muslim immigrants who alleged that a police officer had defaced a Quran.
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis acknowledged some problems in Greece’s response to immigration issues, but denied that the country was guilty of mistreating migrants and refugees. sayBut she also said her country needs help from the European Union to tackle the problem.
“In order to be able to manage this in Greece, we need European solidarity,” she said. “Greece can never be accused of inhumane policy towards the rights of any people who are in Greece.”
But Greece’s new policy is also part of a Europe-wide trend to use long-term detention to address illegal immigration. Italy also recently passed new legislation that criminalizes illegal migrants and increases the length of time they can be held to six months.
“Most definitely in the case of illegally staying migrants, countries are detaining more frequently and some are even starting to deport more frequently,” said Philip Amaral, policy and advocacy officer at the Jesuit Refugee Service, which opposes the detention of refugees and illegal migrants.