In an outrageous purging that is indicative of the right-wing direction much of Europe has turned, Greek authorities conducted a massive crackdown on illegal immigrants over the weekend, stopping and checking tens of thousands of African and Asian people on the street and eventually detaining 6,000 in Athens.
Just as in much of the rest of the continent, the focus on the immigrants from Africa and Asia comes as the nation’s economic difficulties and rising crime have caused many citizens to blame the problems on immigrants. The xenophobic reaction is especially severe in Greece because the country’s population is so small and the nation has traditionally been an entry point to Europe for many immigrants coming in through neighboring Turkey to the east.
Greece has an official population of about 10 million and, according to estimates, there may be a million illegal immigrants in the country—making up at least 10 percent of the population. By comparison in the United States, where the status of illegal immigrants has become a tense political issue and has brought its own version of xenophobia, the federal government estimates there are about 11.5 million illegal immigrants—out of a population of 311 million, that’s well under 1 percent.
Greek officials believe an estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants slip into Greece every year, mostly from neighboring Turkey. So to stem the flood, the country has decided to get aggressive. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said today that the rounding-up would continue because the immigrants have brought Greece “to the brink of collapse.””The country is being lost,” he told private Skai TV. “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.”As part of the operation—cruelly named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios—officers across the city could be seen stopping mostly African and Asian people in the street for identification checks in a scene that struck many as frightening. While most were only briefly detained, about 1,600 were arrested for illegally entering Greece and sent to holding centers pending deportation.
Not everyone in Greece—which has seen a rise in the popularity of extreme right-wing politics—cheered the move. The country’s left-wing opposition parties criticized the crackdown and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees voiced concern that migrants from war-torn countries and genuine asylum-seekers could be denied the right of protection.
But Dendias said that by the end of the year Greece will be able to detain up to 10,000 people.
“Whoever is arrested will be held and then deported,” he said.