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Greece's public order minister said Sunday that police were grappling with a wave of racism-fuelled crimes, but insisted that wiping out illegal immigration was a matter of “national survival”.
As Greece struggles with a fifth year of recession, a crippling economic crisis and harsh austerity measures, the country has recorded a rise in social tensions and racist attacks, prompting international concern.
Racist violence is a “new phenomenon,” the minister Nikos Dendias told Kathimerini newspaper in an interview published Sunday.
“For the police, this 'field' is terra incognita. Racist crime is a complex issue,” he said.
In mid-August, a young Iraqi was knived to death in Athens by five men in a hate attack after a police sweep to clear the capital of illegal immigrants.
Police have arrested thousands of undocumented immigrants in a series of sweeps, sparking protests by human rights groups.
Dendias said however that ridding Greece of illegal immigrants was a “question of national survival” and underlined the importance of expanding the sweeps to the rest of the country.
He added that an evaluation of the operation would be made on December 31 and will set up next steps on the issue.
Dendias accompanied Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Saturday on a surprise visit to the troubled area of Omonia in downtown Athens, where many of the sweeps have taken place.
“We need to make Athens a safe place because Greeks cannot live differently. This needs to happen all over the country... We really have to continue,” said Samaras after talking with local shopkeepers.
Due to its geographical location, Greece serves as the main entry point for migrants from Asia and Africa crossing illegally into the European Union.
The heavily-indebted country has about 800 000 legally-registered immigrants, but undocumented immigrants are estimated to exceed 350 000.
Capitalising on rising unemployment and crime fears, for the first time a neo-Nazi party, the Golden Dawn, was voted into parliament in June, winning 18 out of 300 seats.
The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks has described it “the most overtly extremist and Nazi party in Europe” and has called on Greece to examine if it is legal. - Sapa-AFP