Migrant issue discussed in parliament

The migrants that staged a takeover of an Athens University Law School building in central Athens were not illegal migrants, but migrants that are illegal today because they were unable, due to the crisis, to fulfil the required 150 working days to renew their papers and who in the preceding years were legally in Greece and paying their contributions to the state Social Security Foundation (IKA), citizens' protection minister Christos Papoutsis said in parliament on Friday, responding to accusations by main opposition New Democracy (ND) MP Thanassis Nakos that the ministry remained 'inert' in the face of the takeover.

According to Nakos, both the minister and the ministry services had been aware of the plans for the transport of the migrants to Athens for their protest, but did nothing to stop on the island of Crete, from where they left for Athens, or in the port of Piraeus on their arrival.

Papoutsis warned that one should not confuse people who legally lived and worked in Greece for many years, incorporated in the local job markets and who today, for various reasons, do not have residency permits, with illegal migrants.

He added that the migrants who held working permits have paid substantial sums to IKA. "We cannot send them to jail because this year they have been hit by unemployment and they are unable to fulfil the 150 work stamps per year -- the more so when the State has been in deliberations for reducing the required number of work stamps since the time of ND's governance," Papoutsis said.

Addressing himself to Nakos, the minister asked: "Don't you know that you were in discussions with these people? Aren't you ashamed of coming today to accuse the government?"

Papoutsis further said that the migrants that resorted to the Law School building were being awaited by the deputy labor minister (for a discussion) "and I would have considered it inconsistent if the police authorities obstructed them from making the journey".

Meanwhile, approximately 50 members of the Solidarity Initiative for migrants and migrants gathered Friday outside the offices of the Athens Journalists' Union (ESIEA) on Friday, calling for the legalisation of all migrants in the country and equal civil and social rights and obligations with Greek workers.

In an announcement, the demonstrators said the ESIEA building was chosen for the protest because the mass media were reproducing the government's "official language and phraseology" on the issue, charging that the "the propaganda of fascist and racist slogans has become the formal language of the state".

Migration issue a 'bomb'

The migration is a huge issue, "a veritable bomb", for Greek society, but it is not a localised, nor a Greek phenomenon and concerns the entire European Union, Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told a conference of the national federation of police employees on Friday, adding that this was the reason why Greece has put the matter to the EU.

Greece "asked Europe to come here" and extend assistance through FRONTEX (the European border guard force), and chiefly with frontex's Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) along Greece's land border in Evros, precisely in order to create a clear symbolism "that Greece, the Greek authorities, are protecting and guarding the European borders in collaboration and with the assistance of Frontex," he added.

At the same time, with the collaboration of the Hellenic Navy and Army, "we are trying to develop mechanisms -- first of all monitoring mechanisms, but also illegal migrant reception mechanisms," the minister continued.

On measures to combat illegal migration, Papoutsis said that the cooperation with the reception countries and their embassies here for the re-entry of illegal migrants "is not the best it could be", but stressed that the re-entry agreement between the EU and Turkey achieved a week ago "is a big step" in that direction.

"In three weeks from now, on February 24, the agreement will be adopted -- without problems, I hope -- by the EU Council of Ministers," Papoutsis said.

The minister further outlined steps being taken to improve the working conditions of the police.

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