Greece, long thought of as the gateway to Western Europe for Asian, African and Turkish immigrants, has rolled up the red carpet by rounding up thousands of illegal immigrants in a single operation.
Chronic and intense economic downgrades and high unemployment are behind a large-scale deportation effort that is picking up momentum in Greece, according to an Associated Press report.
The government of Greece likens its illegal immigrant situation to a “prehistoric invasion,” as mostly illegal immigrants pour across the Turkish border into Greece.
Ironically, the police operation that saw 6,000 people detained over the weekend was named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios, according to the AP report.
Athens police profiled and stopped people throughout the city to check for identification. While most were soon released, about 1,600 were arrested for illegally entering Greece and held for deportation.
Left-wing politicians criticized the illegal immigrant round up as well as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that expressed its fear that the rights of immigrants from war-torn countries and genuine asylum-seekers could be at stake.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 illegal immigrants slip across the borders into Greece each year. Most enter from Turkey, and officials estimate about a million illegals live in Greece, which has a total population of 10 million, according to the report.
Monday, Greece’s Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said the rounding-up of illegal immigrants will move forward, because illegal immigration has brought Greece "to the brink of collapse."
"The country is being lost," he said on Skai TV as quoted in the AP report. "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."
The Greek office of the U.N. High Commission for refugees allowed that Greece has the right to check immigration status, but that government should protect vulnerable groups
"People who truly need protection must be able to request it," said Petros Mastakas, associate protection officer at the UNHCR office in Athens.
"It is very difficult, practically impossible, for asylum seekers to apply for protected status, and we are concerned that among those arrested there may be people who want protection but were unable to submit their requests because access to the relevant authorities is practically impossible," said Mastakas.