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Twice as many illegal immigrants are willing to voluntarily return to their countries

09 August 2012 / 17:08:02  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The Greek police resumed a week ago the measures against illegal immigrants in central Athens. The authorities announce every day how many immigrants have been caught and how many of them have no documents for legal residence in the country. Today they showed a video of the inspection of one of the early trains that brings dozens of immigrants directly from Evros every day.

Sources from the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection told GRReporter, that the actions would continue. "They will start procedures for the voluntary return of illegal immigrants to their countries. The number of those willing to return is constantly growing. We believe that soon the situation in central Athens will change completely."

The programme for voluntary return of illegal immigrants in Greece, however, has been running since last year and the local office of the International Organization for Migration is responsible for its implementation. GRReporter contacted the head of the mission Daniel Esdras, who indicated that the number of people wishing to leave crisis-pressed Greece is constantly increasing.

"The number of applications for voluntary return of migrants has doubled since the start of the programme last year. Many people come to our offices and seek our help to return to their countries.

The reasons are several: It has become very difficult to move to other European countries, which is their main goal, after the introduction of strict measures at the ports of Patras and Igoumenitsa. Moreover, the crisis has deprived them of even the low wages they received some years ago. As a result, nine out of ten immigrants are living on the streets; they cannot make a living and feel entrapped here.

Our programme gives them the opportunity to return to their countries in a secure and dignified manner. I.e. they return without handcuffs, with laissez-passer and 300 euro in their pockets, which we provide to help them get back on their feet in their homelands, at least initially. Before they leave, we inform them of the situation there. The documents for their return are issued in cooperation with the embassies of the countries in Athens."

Daniel Esdras said the coordination with the diplomatic missions of immigrants’ countries is successful precisely because it is about a voluntary return. In an interview for GRReporter some months ago, the Greek police spokesman at that time Athanasios Kokkalakis had stated that public authorities face no problems in the extradition of nationals whose governments have signed agreements with the receiving countries. "People come to us voluntarily. They know that if they do not declare their real name and birthplace they will not be able to return. And the embassy of the respective country cannot prevent its citizens from returning home."

The majority of immigrants are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Morocco. Sometimes some of them are children, whose parents perished on the road or who just leave to seek better fortune before the age of majority. For them, the procedure is much more specific. "The first condition is the child’s will to return. The second one is the consent of the prosecutor for minors, who has custody of them, according to Greek law. We send details of the child to the office of our organization in the relevant country with the request to find their parents or legal guardian. They, in turn, should express written consent to the return of the child, indicating that they will take responsibility for the child. The procedure is long and complicated, and if these people are not found the child cannot go."




The head of the mission of the International Organization for Migration in Greece Daniel Esdras



The European Commission funds 75 per cent of the costs of the voluntary return programme and the remaining 25 per cent are secured by the Greek State. The organization recognizes that illegal immigration is a serious problem and has made recommendations for its resolving in a more efficient manner.

"First, we believe that these people should be housed in reception centres rather than in detention ones and they should offer humane conditions. We must not forget that these people are on the streets, which makes them easy victims of any kind of exploitation. That is why we say we need to establish reception centres like those available in all European countries. Secondly, screening of immigrants should take place there, which should basically happen when they are crossing the border. A large number of them have the right to international protection and Greece is obliged to provide it. Unaccompanied children, victims of trafficking, refugees fall within these categories. The rest should be given the opportunity of voluntary return. If they do not want to return, the receiving country may extradite them."
The Head of mission stated that a discussion with Turkey at the European level should begin. "The majority of immigrants, not to say all of them, enter Greece by crossing Maritsa River and the area of Evros and the Turkish border. If this flow is not stopped, all efforts will be in vain. The problem with the increasing number of immigrants began after Turkey changed its visa regime with these countries. The moment citizens of these countries do not need a visa to get there, traffickers’ prices drop. They get money just to take them from Istanbul to the border and the price is very low. As a result, we have this increase. Therefore, we think we have to convince Turkey to reintroduce a visa regime for the citizens of countries of North Africa and Southeast Asia."

Daniel Esdras added that the programme provides those, who return, with the opportunity of starting over in their homelands.

"We help some of them to find a job. Unfortunately, money is not enough to help all of them and the selection depends on various criteria such as marital status, whether they belong to lower social groups and others. In practice, we finance the opening of a new job or help them to open a shop, to irrigate their fields and other similar measures. This is the essence of the programme because no person living well in his or her country will decide to emigrate.

In addition, the people who return are probably the best carriers of the message to their fellow citizens not to go into the unknown in such a blind manner. Traffickers lie to them that when they arrive they will find work and earn money. But the people who return can warn them that some die along the way, while others starve, cannot find work and become victims of exploitation."

At the same time, the protest of the local government and the public in the region of Xanthi, who oppose the government's decision to use the two police schools in the city as a temporary detention centre for immigrants, is ongoing. "The establishment of new centres will continue. We understand the reticence of local people, but the security measures in the centres are very strict," said sources from the ministry and added that all human rights are respected in the centres.


Tags: PoliticsSocietyIllegal immigrationProgramme for voluntary returnInternational Organization for Migration
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