Rundt 80.000 immigranter har ankommet Hellas i år, og velger i følge greske myndigheter å oppholde seg illegalt i landet. I oktober gjorde regjeringen oppmerksom på at Hellas ikke lenger klarer oppgaven med å beskytte EUs sør-østlige flanke.

Store grupper illegale immigranter fra Afrika og Midtøsten lever av kriminalitet, og skaper uroligheter i Aten:

While initial problems with the flood of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who are desperate to enter Europe centered on the Aegean islands, migrants are now wreaking havoc in the capital.

The historic center of Athens has been riven by several street battles in recent months, involving what the police characterize as rival groups, often involved in dealing drugs, from Afghanistan, Iraq and war-torn African countries wielding swords, axes and machetes.

After 11 people were hurt in one such brawl in late August, the police began 24-hour patrolling of the area. Store owners and residents are leaving the busy central shopping and restaurant district.

I følge en gruppen som representerer de greske innbyggerne i området, har dusinvis av mennesker forlatt sin hjem i løpet av det siste året og flere butikker har stengt. – De er redde, deprimerte og det blir bare verre og verre, forteller Vassiliki Nikolakopoulou fra gruppen Panathinaia.

En politisk rådgiver i innvandringsspørsmål sier at situasjonen har blitt uutholdelig for Hellas:

The top policy adviser for immigration issues at the Interior Ministry, which also oversees public order, blames the influx of about 80,000 migrants this year.

«Because of this phenomenon, we see more and more immigrants in central Athens trying to survive, often through illicit activities,» the official, Patroklos Georgiadis, said in a telephone interview. «This unpleasant situation – for the migrants and for us as an EU country – has become unbearable.»

Georgiadis said that Greece supported the stricter line on immigration being promoted by the bloc’s French presidency. «There will not be another wave of legalization of immigrants in Greece in the near future,» Georgiadis said, referring to the three programs that have granted work and residence permits to some 500,000 migrants, most of them undocumented foreigners – at least half from Albania – since 1997.

The unrest in Athens has triggered a backlash from the far-right party Laos, whose popularity has jumped to 5.4 percent in opinion polls from 3.5 percent when it entered Parliament a year ago.

«The city center has been taken hostage by gangs of illegal immigrants with knives – isn’t it about time we asked ourselves if we have too many of them?» a Laos legislator, Antonis Georgiadis, said during a recent television debate. He is not related to the immigration official.

Although some on the Greek left have warned against demonizing migrants, the Athens prefect, Yiannis Sgouros, who belongs to the main opposition Socialist party, Pasok, refers to an «explosive problem» in the heart of the capital, where thousands of migrants living in cheap hotels and derelict houses struggle to find work.

«Illegal immigrants are becoming pawns to local drug barons and are forming gangs,» Sgouros wrote last week in a letter to Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. He added: «Something has to change or the area will become an arena for race clashes and gang wars.»

Den svenske menneskerettighetskommisæren for Europarådet, Thomas Hammarberg, kritiserer imidlertid Hellas og andre EU-land for å «kriminalisere irregulær ankomst og tilstedværelse av immigranter som en del av en politikk som skal innebære såkalt håndtering av innvandring.»

«Political decision-makers should not lose the human rights perspective in migration,» Hammarberg wrote in an e-mail message when asked to comment for this article. «Migrants coming from war-torn states should be given refuge.»

The government says that Greece grants protection to all refugees, as long as their status can be proven. But UN refugee agency statistics show that Greece approves less than one percent of asylum applications, compared with a European Union average of 20 percent.

According to minority groups, the treatment of migrants from war-torn states as «illegals» rather than refugees requiring protection forces them to eke out a life on the fringes of society.

«Most don’t get asylum or social support and have to find other ways to survive,» Adam Ziat, leader of the Union of Sudanese Refugees, said in a dingy café behind central Omonia Square that serves as his office.

According to Ahmed Mowias, coordinator of the Greek Migrants’ Forum, newly-arrived refugees from conflict zones are being exploited by rackets run by Nigerians, Moroccans and Algerians established in the area for many years. «Refugees are the smallest links in the dealing chain,» Mowias, a longtime resident of Athens who is from Sudan, said.

Police figures show that most immigrants arrested on drug-related charges in central Athens this year were from war-torn states like Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

For de fleste av disse innvandrerne var deres første stopp i Hellas de Eegiske øyer, der mottakssentrene er overfylt og de lokale myndighetene i ferd med å miste tålmodigheten.

I oktober blokkerte myndighetene på en av øyene, Patmos, havnene for båter med passasjerer fra Tyrkia, og opplyste om at antallet uønskede gjester på øya nå overgikk øyas 3.000 permanente innbyggere. Myndighetene på de populære øyene Lesbos og Samos, som daglig rapporterer om båter som ankommer med immigranter, krever handling fra den greske regjeringen.

Men i følge Ahmed Mowias, koordinator for Greek Migrants’ Forum, er det greske myndigheter og manglende sosialstøtte som har skylden for situasjonen som har oppstått:

But, according to Mowias, the government’s failure to create a comprehensive immigration and asylum system is the root of the problem. «When a group of people has no social support and cannot solve its problems, this leads to a crisis,» he said.

International Herald Tribune: A rising tide of migrants unsettles Athens