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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Greek elections focus on immigration
Illegal Albanian immigrants under arrest on Greek border
Illegal Albanian immigrants arrested on Greek border
By Shirin Wheeler in Northern Greece

On Sunday, 9 April, Greek voters will go to the polls in what is expected to be one of the most closely fought elections for years.

The latest opinion polls have put the ruling Socialists neck to neck with the opposition New Democracy Party.


There's nothing for us in Albania

Danae, illegal immigrant
One of the issues that has dominated the campaign is the question of the number of illegal immigrants coming into Greece from neighbouring countries like Albania.

Human rights groups are concerned that politicians from all parties have injected a distinctly xenophobic note into the campaign.

Border arrests

Midnight arrest
Midnight arrest
At midnight on the Albanian border, Greek patrol guards have just made their first arrests of the night. Eight Albanians have been stopped.

As we arrive the police are looking for guns. This route is used by heavily armed drug smugglers.

The officers are edgy as they have come under fire on some occasions.

These men though, like thousands of others, have come to Greece to find work.

However, more and more of these journeys end here.


Sent home: Albanians hope to return to Greece
Once the men have been searched, I ask one of them, Danae, why they have come to Greece.

"We've all come from the same village," he says.

"There's nothing for us in Albania."

They had been walking for a day and would have walked another five to find work.

However, this visit will be a short one - a night spent in a police cell.

Each morning busloads of Albanians caught the night before are sent back home - to Europe's poorest country - across the official border.

However, many of these men will be back as they are determined to finish their journey.

Greek-Albanian border: More than a 100km long
Greek-Albanian border: More than a 100km long
One man says: "I'll go back to Albania for four days or so and then I'll come back."

These mountains stretch for more than 100km.This border is where the European Union meets one of its mosts unstable and least developed neighbours.

Standing here, you can see the sheer scale of the task facing those trying to keep unwelcome vistors out.

Since passport controls with other EU countries were relaxed, security has been strengthened with more helicopter flights and more patrols.

The police chief, Fotios Bouradas, insists his units are winning the battle.

Police chief:
Police chief: "The borders are almost sealed"
"We used to have only a few small patrols," he says."That wasn't enough to stop the migrants from getting over.

"Since we've tripled the resources, we've actually been able to stop the Albanians getting into the area.

" The borders are almost sealed now."

Political issue

But not everyone agrees the situation is under control.

Makis Voridis is one of a new breed of right wing politicians who are fighting the election on an anti-immigrant ticket.

His party, The Hellenic Front, is fighting a general election for the first time in Greece.

He is funding his own campign but he thinks he speaks for the majority.

Voridis: Fighting election on anti-immigrant ticket
Voridis: Fighting election on anti-immigrant ticket

"Polls show that more than 80% of Greeks want repatriation of illegal immigrants," he says.

"It's also clear that the most important issue in this campaign is crime, unemployment and insecurity."

At election rallies across Greece, both main parties have been promising a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

However, human rights groups are alarmed that even mainstream politicians are making the link between crime and immigration.

Panayiotis Dimitras is from the group Helsinki Monitor based in Athens.

Greek guard watches out for illegal immigrants
Greek guard watches out for illegal immigrants
He speaks of a "mainstream extremism". The views that are spoken blatantly by the far right are now being expressed by politicians from all parties.
The politicians have charged guards with tracking down the migrants and keeping them out.

However, the Albanians living over the hills have nothing.

While the European Union has already promised millions of dollars for countries like Albania, the border guards will carry on working fulltime until conditions improve and Albanians have more reason to stay at home

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See also:

16 Mar 00 | Business
Greek shares under assault
09 Mar 00 | Business
Greece asks to join the euro
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