By Nicholas Paphitis,Â Associated Press
Authorities inÂ GreeceÂ are rounding up thousands of suspected illegalÂ immigrantsÂ in a large-scale deportation drive to combat what a government official compared to a prehistoric invasion.
GreeceÂ has long beenÂ Europe‘s main entry point for illegalÂ immigrantsÂ fromÂ AsiaÂ andÂ AfricaÂ seeking a better life in the West. ButÂ Greece’sÂ severe economic problems and high unemployment are making the problem worse than ever.
Police said Monday that 6,000 people were detained over the weekend inÂ AthensÂ in a massive operation incongruously named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios.
Officers across the city were seen stopping mostly African and Asian people in the street for identification checks. Most were only briefly detained, but about 1,600 were arrested for illegally enteringÂ GreeceÂ and sent to holding centers pending deportation.
Left-wing opposition parties criticized the crackdown, while theÂ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesÂ voiced concern that migrants from war-torn countries and genuine asylum-seekers could be denied the right of protection.
Some 100,000 illegalÂ immigrantsÂ are estimated to slip intoÂ GreeceÂ every year, mostly from neighboringÂ Turkey, and up to a million are believed to live inÂ Greece, which has an official population of about 10 million.
The uncontrolled influx, which coincided with a recent spike in crime, contributed to the sharp rise of an extreme-right political party which uses aggressive rhetoric againstÂ immigrants.
Once beyond the pale of Greek politics, the extreme right Golden Dawn gained nearly 7 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections six weeks ago. Mainstream parties also pledged to curtailÂ immigrantÂ flows.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said Monday the rounding-up of illegalÂ immigrantsÂ would continue, arguing that their unchecked entry has broughtÂ GreeceÂ “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.”
Ancient tradition linked the invasion of Greek-speaking Dorian tribes with the end of the heroic Mycenaean age, although historians believe that the Mycenaean palatial civilization was brought down by financial and social unrest.
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