ATHENS – An apparent turf war between foreign gangs in the grimy major center of Omonia Square in Greece’s capital – where a new fountain is the centerpiece of a renovation aimed at bringing in tourists and business – has led the New Democracy government to say it will deport “migrant troublemakers” and make them ineligible for asylum.
The battles in Omonia escalated with the shooting death of a 23-year-old Afghan man, with the perpetrators still at large despite raids by police in the area for several days and as the Mayor’s office was about to unveil a renovation of the square that has been home to criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes and other elements.
Tension has been soaring over a newly rekindled refugee and migrant crisis that has seen Greece trying to deal with more than 100,000 of them, including some 42,000 in island camps and detention centers where there has been frequent violence.
The government said it will open new centers on islands to vet those not eligible for sanctuary, with most wanting to stay in Greece instead of being sent back to Turkey where they had first gone fleeing war and strife in their homelands.
Human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union, which has closed its borders to refugees and migrants and with other countries reneging on promises to take some of the overload have kept swamping Greece.
They go to Greek islands on rubber dinghies and rickety craft across the perilous Aegean, many capsizing with the loss of scores of lives, including women and children, with the Greek Coast Guard and EU border patrol Frontex unable to stem the tide.
Besides those fleeing for their lives and seeking a better life, the numbers include criminals, said Greek officials, who said they will be deported although there’s no way to make Turkey take them back despite the EU deal.
The government, reported The Voice of America, wants to ship out lawmakers to fight rising crime blamed on them, and as island officials and residents are fighting plans to create new “These troublemakers and criminal offenders have no place in Greece,” Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said “They have chosen the wrong country and society to behave criminally against. Rest assured,” he told Apotipomata, a leading current affairs program, “migrant troublemakers will be hunted down and forced to leave.”
That came as police arrested more than 100 migrants in the capital city and rounded up another 40 on the island of Lesbos, home to the notorious Moria detention center holding 18,000 people in a facility designed for one-sixth that, home to frequent violence.
In Athens, police said they will target foreign gangs said behind sex and drug trafficking and who flourished under the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA accused of condoning lawlessness and of having an open-door policy to refugees and migrants.
Asylum applications can take two years or longer to be reviewed, bringing growing frustration in the camps that has seen riot police often called in to quell trouble and with living conditions for refugees and migrants said to be inhumane.
“For years,” Chrysochoidis said, “there was no real attempt to penalize them. They would be rounded up, detained and then released, allowing them to resume their criminal conduct while waiting for their asylums to be processed.”
Under new legislation, he said offenders will instantly be stripped of their asylum rights and detained until deportation, in closed facilities on a host of Greek islands. “You cannot expect a country to be rewarding criminal offenders and troublemakers with asylum,” Chrysochoidis said.
Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees illegally crossed to the Greek islands from Turkey last year, roughly double the rate recorded in 2017 and 2018, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the report said.
New Democracy said it would also send 20,000 back to Turkey, which has accepted only 2000 in the last four years, since the swap deal was signed, and the government is seeking bids to build a floating sea wall in the Aegean off Lesbos to keep out refugees and migrants.
The report said as many as 95 percent of asylum applications could be rejected from among the 75,000 being processed with sanctuary approved for only 79 of 1,881 cases in the last month, according to state data.
With the legislation barring appeals it wasn’t said what happened with those who were deniedas human rights groups and activists and NGO’s working in the camps saying New Democracy’s tough stance is cruel and unfair.
“The government must urgently implement its plan to move people to the mainland, improve conditions and enforce a fast and fair asylum procedure,” Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesperson for UNHCR Greece told VOA.
“We’re changing the rules,” Chrysochoidis said. “And it’s not out of spite or because of some racist belief. We finally have to defend our people from the fallouts of this crisis.”