Citizen's Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, referring to a meeting of Mediterranean EU interior and home ministers in Rome last week, stressed that constant contact and coordination was agreed to, along with joint sea patrols by EU member-states' coast guards and Frontex to stem the tide of a possible wave of illegal immigration towards the Union's south.

The minister also touched on his visit to Turkey on Tuesday and closely watched talks with his Turkish counterpart, Turkey's interior minister.

"The issues we have to discuss are the strengthening of cooperation in the sector of border security, dealing with the trafficking of illegal immigrants and of the rings that mainly traffic migrants and exploit their hope for better life, along with implementation of a bilateral protocol agreement regarding (migrants') re-admission," the minister said.

Speaking at an EU council of ministers last week, Papoutsis said an EU-Turkey agreement on the readmission of illegal migrants was adopted, foreseeing Turkish participation in a joint European effort to combat illegal immigration.

Referring to the situation at the western ports of Igoumenitsa and Patras due to the large numbers of illegal migrants camped out around the ports in hopes of stowing away aboard Italy-bound ferry boats, he said:

"It is a situation that we are experiencing with heightened concern, given that Greece is obliged to observe very strict rules for guarding the EU borders, because it is our obligation towards the Schengen Pact and the European Union."

He added that "if for whatever reason we appear flexible and allow migrants to leave by turning a 'blind eye', this will automatically mean Greece's expulsion from the Schengen Pact, something our people will not tolerate."

As regards the 250-plus North African migrants on a hunger strike in central Athens, the minister said "it is absolutely reasonable for all of us to be concerned, because we must not forget that in our society what is most valuable of all is human life. From then on, however, there are laws of the country. Greece does not have the right nor does it intend to proceed with the mass legalisation of (illegal) migrants. It is not allowed by the legal and the European framework in which we are bound."