• Greece set up its first detention centre for migrants on 29 April (Photo: UNHCR)

Greece opens first migrant detention centre

30.04.12 @ 09:28

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
  2. Nikolaj email
  3. Nikolaj Twitter

BRUSSELS - Greece on Sunday (29 April) set up its first detention centre for undocumented migrants, composed of box homes, surrounded by high wire, and meant to house some 1,200 people

Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said the centre - situated in Amygdaleza, northwest of Athens - will help the country to deal with immigration. Athens expects to build another 50 similar centres between now and mid-2013.

“With Amygdaleza we have proven that a government can and should work even a few days before elections,” tweeted Chrysochoidis, with elections taking place on Sunday.

Protestors stood outside the camp holding banners reading “no to the degradation of our region.” The detainees are allowed outside the camp during the day, reports the BBC.

Athens has been struggling to contain and process some estimated 130,000 migrants who cross into the country by sea or along the porous Turkish border every year.

"We are sending a message in every direction that the country is not unfenced anymore," Chrysohoidis said at a rally in Athens.

Earlier in the month, Chrysohoidis said they are nearing completion of a three-metre-high barrier to stem the flow of crossings along a 12.5km-long strip of land with Turkey.

According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, some 6,000 people a month were crossing into Greece last summer along the strip. In September alone last year, the Hellenic Police arrested 7,052 immigrants along the Greek-Turkish land border.

Turkey has so far resisted signing a readmission agreement with the EU whereby migrants crossing into Greece would be sent back over the border. It is instead holding out for a relaxed EU visa regime.

Immigrants an election issue

With Greece unable to house them, many migrants are forced onto the streets. They provide an easy target for political parties campaigning for the far-right vote.

Others are stopped in the streets of Athens and ushered into police vans if they have no identity cards. The Hellenic Police report authorities arrested over 67,000 migrants for illegal residence and entry in the first nine months of 2011 alone.

A poll conducted by To Vima newspaper on 9 April found around 90 percent surveyed believe immigrants are responsible for the rise in violence and crime.

The resentment towards immigrants and undocumented migrants has fuelled support for the xenophobic former fringe movement,the Golden Dawn party.

Headed by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the Golden Dawn say all irregular migrants should be deported. They also want to place landmines along the Greek-Turkish border.

Golden Dawn also organise security patrols in immigrant-dense neighbourhoods in Athens and hand out food and clothing to impoverished Greeks.

“Only men and women of Greek descent and consciousness should have full political rights,” proclaims Golden Dawn’s charter.

The party will take part in Sunday's election, and is expected to break the three percent threshold to enter parliament.

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