Greece to deport undocumented migrants
Authorities in Greece rounded up 6,030 undocumented migrants in Athens over the weekend and arrested 1,525 of them for not meeting the legal conditions for residency in Greece.
"Those arrested will be deported to their home countries," Greece's ministry of public order and citizen protection told EUobserver in an email.
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None among those arrested are minors, authorities claim.
The campaign is the start of larger permanent operation named after the Greek god of hospitality - "Xenius Zeus" - which will soon spread to all Greek peripheries and prefectures.
Police academy facilities in Xanthi and Komotini near the Turkish border were to temporarily house those detained, but local authorities, church representatives, MPs and people from the region reportedly blockaded the streets in protest.
The operation also aims to seal gaps on the border with Turkey - the main crossing and entry point of undocumented migrants into Europe.
Greek authorities last week posted over 1,800 additional border guards on its Turkish border to prevent people who are fleeing the Syrian conflict from getting in.
For his part, police spokesman Christos Manouras said the aim of Xenius Zeus is to push back undocumented migrants to the Evros region on the Turkish bronder and, ultimately, to send them back to their countries of origin.
Public order minister Nikos Dendias told reporters the crackdown is necessary to safeguard the foundations of the Greek state. On Saturday, the police claimed "national survival" was at stake.
Greece has no official statistics on the number of "illegal" immigrants in the country, but the Greek Refugee Council (GRC) estimates it to be around 1 million, with many in transit to other countries.
The GRC says Greece lacks reception and screening centres to process those detained.
"There is no guarantee that among all these people, there are refugees and vulnerables in need of protection. Since there is no free access to asylum, this aim is not legitimate. This action is a unilateral act for deportations," the group told this website.
The UN refugee agency in Greece, the UNHCR, is also concerned that among those arrested are people in legitimate need of international protection.
The UN agency told this website that some may lack the required documents to reside in Greece because they were unable to submit their asylum claims.
"Access to relevant authorities is practically impossible," the UNHCR said in an email.
The agency noted that Greece needs to ensure people who need international protection have the opportunity to request it.
It also said that refugees from war-torn countries and genuine asylum-seekers should not be sent back if their lives might be endangered.
The UN agency recommends states adopt a moratorium on all returns to Syria for the time being.
For its part, the European Commission is preparing a mission together with the Malta-based European Asylum Support Office (Easo) and the EU's border control agency, Frontex, in order to support the Greek government with the deployment of the additional border guards.
"Member states must carry out the removal using the least coercive measures possible. It is only when the enforcement of the return decision is being compromised by the person concerned, that member states may deprive that person of their liberty and detain them in a specialised facility," the European Commission said in an email.