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Greece detains 6,000 suspected illegal immigrants in raid, plans to deport 1,600

Greece authorities plan to continue rounding up hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants in Athens.

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Policemen shout slogans during a demonstration of Greek security forces against the new austerity measures in Athens on February 28, 2012. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Greece is conducting a large-scale raid on suspected illegal immigrants. Authorities rounded up 6,000 people in Athens on Monday, 1,600 of whom they plan to deport, the Associated Press reported. Most of those initially detained, however, have been released, the BBC reported.

The operation — ironically named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios — is an attempt by Greek officials to combat what they have compared to a prehistoric invasion, according to the AP. 

"The country is being lost," Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias told privately-owned Greek station Skai TV, the AP reported. "What is happening now is (Greece's) greatest invasion ever. Since the Dorian invasion some 3,000 years ago, the country has never received such a flow of immigration."

Dendias defended the round-up, saying that Greece's dire economic situation could not support "an invasion of immigrants," BBC News reported.

"Unless we create the proper structure to handle immigration, then we will fall apart," Dendias said, calling the country's immigration issue a "bomb at the foundations of the society and of the state." 

The country has already deported 88 immigrants to Pakistan, and has increased its presence near its border with Turkey, where many of the illegal immigrants enter the country, BBC News reported. 

Greece's left-wing parties have criticized the raids, which Dendias said would continue, the AP reported. 

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees also expressed its concerns that the harsh deportations would harm vulnerable people seeking asylum in the country.

"People who truly need protection must be able to request it," said Petros Mastakas, associate protection officer at the UNHCR office in Athens, according to the AP. 

Around 100,000 immigrants, most from Asia and Africa, enter Greece illegally every year, and 80 percent of Europe's migrants reach the continent via Greece, looking for the opportunity for a better life. There are believed to be as many as a million illegal immigrants living in Greece, which has an official population of around 10 million, the AP reported. 

Greece is currently in the throes of the worst recession to hit Europe in decades, and has seen many protests and strikes by fired or low-income workers and students, PressTV pointed out.

The country's unemployment rate is currently 22.5 percent, according to Eurostat

More from GlobalPost: Greece plans to test illegal immigrants for diseases, detain immigrants indefinitely

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120806/greece-deport-6000-immigrants-detained-raid