The government on Friday again offered to consider the 250-plus illegal migrants currently on a near month-long hunger strike in Athens and Thessaloniki as eligible for a six-month so-called “state of tolerance”, meaning they will not face deportation to their home countries.

Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis again made the proposal a day after a high-profile comment by the defence minister, who said that “human casualties must be avoided at all costs”, sparked an immediate and sharp reaction by the relevant interior minister.

On his part, Papoutsis called on NGOs and the migrants’ supporters to work towards a solution, given that dozens of the mostly North African nationals have been hospitalised recently for dehydration, exhaustion and kidney problems.

Nevertheless, the government has reiterated repeatedly that it will not be blackmailed into granting legalisation to non-eligible migrants, i.e. illegal immigrants. The initial demand by the hunger strikers and their supporters, including members of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), was for the unconditional legalisation of all undocumented foreign nationals in the country.

Migrants and supporters have been camped out at a neo-classical building off Patission street after initially taking over an Athens law school building for a week last month.

“Regarding the hunger striking migrants, relevant officials of our ministry have clarified to the NGO representatives that support their struggle to propose to the strikers that their repatriation be postponed,” Papoutsis said, adding that a written guarantee will be offered to each hunger striker valid for six months. He added, however, that each of the foreign nationals must also register their particulars to police authorities.

Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis also underlined, in reference to the development, that “as much as our obligation is to make sure not even one life is lost, so too is it our obligation to not allow our country to be blackmailed.”

Thursday’s mini furor came on the heels of DM Evangelos Venizelos’ comment, which were answered via a written statement by Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis hours later. The latter said Venizelos should have asked for direct briefing over such a sensitive matter before making statements in Parliament.

In a late-night intervention, government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said both ministers later spoke by phone in the evening, “where it was judged that no problem exists.”

No agreement in government meeting with hunger-strike migrants

No agreement was reached during a meeting on Friday between government ministers and representatives of 300-odd migrants that are on a mass hunger-strike in a central Athens building to demand legal residence for themselves and other economic migrants in Greece.

After Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos left the building, the migrants held a meeting to decide whether they should accept or reject the government's proposal to allow them a six-month "grace period" before they are asked to leave the country.

The six-month "window" is foreseen under the law for those applying for political asylum and can be extended to illegal immigrants when there special circumstances, such as the serious health problems now faced by the group on hunger strike. This essentially delays deportation for a period of six months and the delay can also be extended for a "reasonable" space of time by the Citizens' Protection Minister.

The 'tolerance status' also allows a migrant resident in Greece to work legally for as long as they are in the country. In order for the law to go into force, however, a presidential decree that is currently still pending must first be issued.

After the meeting, Ragoussis said that it was positive the government had an opportunity to speak to the migrants and make its position clear.

"The Greek government has exhausted all leeway given by the law. It cannot proceed with a mass legalisation of migrants," he stressed.

The migrants on hunger strike had asked to be granted humanitarian status but this was refused by the government, which said that humanitarian status was given either to those that had a residence permit in the past or could prove that they had lived in the country for 12 years.

Commenting on the government's handling of the issue, main opposition New Democracy representative Yiannis Mihelakis said it was "at sixes and sevens" and "falling apart".

"The prime minister at this crucial time for the country, instead of coordinating and guiding, is acting as a 'blue helmet' between sparring ministers. The government spokesman came to the point of celebrating - in one of the now habitual late-night 'pyjama announcements' - the achievement of an intra-party truce," Mihelakis said.

Migrants on hunger strike reject government offer

The 300-odd migrants on hunger strike in central Athens on Friday unanimously rejected the government's offer of a six-month 'toleration status' allowed under EU migration laws, saying it did not meet their demand for full legalisation.

An earlier meeting between representatives of migrants and government ministers had ended without any agreement and was followed by a meeting to discuss the government's proposals.

After Interior Minister Yiannis Ragoussis and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos left the building, the migrants held a meeting to decide whether they should accept or reject the government's proposal to allow them a six-month "grace period" before they are asked to leave the country.

They also rejected Loverdos' offer to transfer all those on hunger strike to hospital in view of a sharp deterioration in the weather expected over the next few days, saying they would be transferred to hospitals at the recommendation of the doctors currently attending to them.

The six-month "window" is foreseen under the law for those applying for political asylum and can be extended to illegal immigrants when there special circumstances, such as the serious health problems now faced by the group on hunger strike. This essentially delays deportation for a period of six months and the delay can also be extended for a "reasonable" space of time by the Citizens' Protection Minister.

The 'toleration status' also allows a migrant resident in Greece to work legally for as long as they are in the country. In order for the law to go into force, however, a presidential decree that is currently still pending must first be issued.

After the meeting, Ragoussis said that it was positive the government had an opportunity to speak to the migrants and make its position clear.

"The Greek government has exhausted all leeway given by the law. It cannot proceed with a mass legalisation of migrants," he stressed.

The migrants on hunger strike had asked to be granted humanitarian status but this was refused by the government, which said that humanitarian status was given either to those that had a residence permit in the past or could prove that they had lived in the country for 12 years.

Commenting on the government's handling of the issue, main opposition New Democracy representative Yiannis Mihelakis said it was "at sixes and sevens" and "falling apart".

"The prime minister at this crucial time for the country, instead of coordinating and guiding, is acting as a 'blue helmet' between sparring ministers. The government spokesman came to the point of celebrating - in one of the now habitual late-night 'pyjama announcements' - the achievement of an intra-party truce," Mihelakis said.