As Greece resumed its round up of people suspected of being unlawful immigrants, some 400 who were already in detention in a center in Komotini in northeastern Greece took their mattresses out and set them on fire to protest the conditions in which they were being held. There are about 550 immigrants in the facility.
The protesters cried “Freedom” and “Send us home,” as they also burned wooden doors and window frames, and threw rocks and metal rods wrenched from their bunks at riot officers called to the scene. At least four riot officers and four migrants were injured in the fracas, while authorities made around 50 arrests.
The protest came less than a week after similar action in Corinth in the northern Peloponnese, where inmates complained that there was no hot water in the showers, among other grievances. Greece has repeatedly been cited by international human rights organizations for abysmal conditions at its immigrant detention centers.
As authorities continue to round up thousands of illegal immigrants, and those who aren’t, the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whose platform is anti-immigrant, is moving ahead with plans to repeal a 2010 law granting citizenship to second-generation immigrants who were born in Greece, speak Greek and go to Greek schools.
Police arrested 404 undocumented immigrants in Athens on Nov. 23 as the sweep known as Xenios Zeus picked up again after a lull. Authorities said six of the detainees were arrested because they were not in possession of the proper residence papers.
A day earlier, four properties were also searched. According to police, 54,086 migrants have been briefly detained since the start of the operation. Of these 3,994 were charged with being in the country illegally.
Greek police fired teargas at dozens of immigrants who were pelting them with sticks and metal objects. Greece is the European Union’s southernmost entry point for immigrants and Greek authorities have complained that the country is being overwhelmed and receiving little help in dealing with the incursion.
The influx of illegal immigrants has also given rise to what human rights groups complained is a sharp increase in racist attacks, including what witnesses said came from members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that has 18 seats in Parliament.
About 130,000 immigrants cross Greece’s sea and land borders every year, most through Turkey and authorities are forced to release those arrested because of a lack of permanent housing. Greece is also building a fence along the border with its neighbor. Komotini, a town hard hit by the recession, is close to the Turkish border.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters)