Politics: Greece to prepare for surge in migrants from north Africa

Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis on Monday announced that Greek authorities will step up police and coast guard patrols on land and at sea to stem a possible upsurge in the tide of illegal immigrants from the troubled north African countries of Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.

Papoutsis made the announcement after chairing a meeting with the leadership of the Greek Police (ELAS), the National Intelligence Service and the coast guard to discuss the situation in the region and strategies for coping with a possible surge of migrants from those areas. The meeting took place at the Maritime Affairs, Islands and Fisheries ministry.

Papoutsis said that there did not appear to be any particular cause for concern at present but that Greece should be prepared and in a state of readiness.

Checking the identity of all ferry passengers on domestic routes would be a part of this effort for stricter monitoring, he added.

The minister also noted that if there was a rise in migrants from these areas to Greece, they would be afforded temporary protection internationally, as provided by the law.

Papoutsis emphasised that European Union authorities were starting to question Greece's ability to guarantee the protection of EU borders as required under the Schengen Treaty, in addition to the problems with migration pressure faced by the country.

He was critical of those mobilising legal and illegal migrants at a time when such actions were exceptionally risky and could well triggered uncontrollable situations.

"I appeal to all agencies and unions supporting migrants to discourage their members from actions that could act as sources of tension," Papoutsis underlined, urging those wishing to demonstrate their solidarity with migrants to do this in a way that did not place the Greek people and their entitlements at risk.

The minister announced that 17 committees for examining applications for political asylum would begin working at a secondary level on Monday. He stressed that the political will to assess the applications was there, even though there was a huge backlog of 46,000 applications now pending.

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