The Greek daily Nea newspaper reported that the government was in the process of setting up internment camps for illegal immigrants throughout the country. Eleven disused army bases have been chosen in order to house those found without legal residency documents.
Stung by their losses in the recent European elections the ruling conservative New Democracy party has taken a sharp turn to the right in order to win back dissatisfied voters who’s defected to the far right LAOS party in last week’s elections.
In addition the police have made hundreds of arrests of suspected illegal immigrants in the centre of Athens in an action which has been interpreted as a “get tough” message by the government of Kostas Karamanlis to the party’s base following months of falling opinion poll results brought on by a series of corruption scandals and unhappiness with Athens’s handling of Greece’s deepening recession.
However, many opposition groups are doubtful whether the proposed measures will be anything other than a publicity exercise. Despite recent crackdowns the government has failed to formulate a coherent policy concerning the integration of the country’s 1 million foreign born inhabitants.
Nothing more reflects Greece’s sometimes schizophrenic attitude to immigration than the plight of those in the port city of Patra, one of the country’s gateway’s to Europe. Everyday hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan and other east Asian countries attempt to smuggle themselves aboard trucks headed for Italy. Most have no legal documents and given the fact that less than 1% who apply for asylum are granted it very little chance of ever obtaining legal travel documents.
Desperate to leave Greece, the state has made it virtually impossible for them to travel, resulting in hundreds of thousands stuck in a bureaucratic limbo in which they are constantly at risk of arrest and deportation by the police. Even those who do escape face the risk of being sent back to Greece under the terms of the EU’s Dublin II regulations which states that immigrants have to apply for asylum in the first European Union country they reach. However, countries such as Holland, Finland and Norway have suspended such agreements citing lapses and abuses of the asylum laws in Greece, especially concerning minors.
Growing concerns over immigration have been exploited by Greece’s far right parties and organisations in order to raise their public profile and gain political leverage in parliament. Giorgos Karatzaferis, leader of the nationalist LAOS party used the recent elections to promote his party’s anti - immigration policies. In addition ultra - nationalists groups such as the neo - Nazi Chrysi Aygi (New Dawn) have stepped up attacks on immigrants in Athens.
The recent clamp downs by the police have also worried Greece’s human rights groups who have often accused the police of illegal treatment of non - ethnic Greek groups. Also organisations such as Amnesty International and Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) have repeatedly condemned the country’s police and prison system of human rights abuses. In addition United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) criticised the country over its treatment of asylum seekers.
Case in point is the capital’s Petrou Ralli police station which has been repeatedly been connected with the suspicious deaths of Asian immigrants in the area. Three have been found dead, dumped in a river bed 500 metres away from the station in the area in the last eight months alone.
This is not the first time that internment camps have been used in the history of modern Greece. During the military junta which ruled from 1967 to 1974 the state set up camps on the Greek islands to imprison and torture political dissidents.