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Greece plans to lock up illegal migrants

A new Greek law increases the amount of time illegal immigrants can be detained.

Last year, the European Parliament passed legislation allowing member states to detain illegal migrants for up to 18 months under certain conditions. The law also sets out the conditions under which illegal immigrants can be deported from the EU.

Yiota Masouridou, from the Greek Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants, said Greece’s tough new laws are intended in part to pressure other EU countries to give more assistance to Greece and other frontline European countries.

“It is a reality that this is a country on the border of the EU, and as in Italy and Malta, they face a tremendous problem,” she said. “Now the attempt is to penalize migrants. I think this is to try to bargain on a European Union level.”

Currently, most illegal migrants are detained at Greece’s borders and held for three months before being released with an order to leave the country within one month. But few actually leave and most end up living in a state of illegality, subject to repeated cycles of arrest and release.

Greek police have stepped up raids against illegal migrants living in Athens, but are often forced to release those they arrest because they lack the facilities to hold them and struggle to deport them to their country of origin.

Human rights groups say there are no accurate statistics tracking the number of migrants and asylum seekers in detention, but in 2008 the French NGO Cimade documented 235 camps in the European Union with a capacity of more than 30,000 people.

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