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Greek police flatten migrant camp

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Greek police flatten a camp housing illegal immigrants

By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

Greek riot police have led an operation to demolish a makeshift camp housing illegal immigrants in the western port city of Patras.

The camp was used by migrants hoping to smuggle themselves onto ships bound for Italy and Western Europe.

Its closure is more proof of Greece's tougher stance on illegal immigration.

The camp had been a source of tension with many Greeks who regarded it as a major eyesore for themselves and for tourists arriving from Italy.

'Terrorising migrants'

About 100 riot police escorted bulldozers into the camp before dawn.

Map

They levelled scores of cardboard and plastic hovels.

Only a makeshift mosque and a tent used by volunteer doctors were left untouched.

The camp in Patras had been in existence in some form or another for 13 years.

A few months ago, it accommodated about 1,800 people, mainly from Afghanistan.

But that number had dwindled to about 100 following large-scale arrests and also because the port authorities had made it nearly impossible to get on board ferries to Italy.

The early morning operation was described by Red Cross officials in Patras as "terrorising" the migrants.

One worker said it was designed to send a message to all illegal immigrants that they had no future in Greece.

'Migrant threat'

The conservative government in Athens has started taking tougher measures against the so-called "clandestines" in recent weeks, especially since the success of the right-wing nationalist Laos party in the European parliamentary election.

A new law has been passed which makes deportation easier.

Greece has been criticised internationally for its handling of would-be asylum seekers.

But recently the EU Justice Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, acknowledged that the "uncontrollable flow of immigration" posed a major threat to the equilibrium of Greek democracy.

The clampdown in Patras will push some migrants into the hands of traffickers in Athens and Italy who are demanding up to $8,000 (£4,940) for passage out of Greece.

Others have given up trying to catch a boat to Western Europe and have headed for Greece's land borders with Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.



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