Greek authorities have cracked down on illegal immigrants in a bid to appease far-right voters.
As local police announced plans to deport up to 1,600 illegal immigrants, one conservative government official labelled the immigrant community as a “prehistoric invasion”.
In Athens people of African and Asian appearance were stopped for identification checks before a total of 6,000 arrests, citing illegal entry to the country.
|As the economy struggles in Greece, attacks on immigrants are increasing [Al Jazeera]
Leftist opposition parties have criticised the rooting out and the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, gave warning that genuine asylum seekers from war-torn countries could be denied the right of protection.
Greece has an official population of 10 million, but it is estimated that annually 100,000 immigrants cross into the country from neighbouring Turkey.
The country has long been Europe's main entry point for illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the West. But the nations’ severe economic problems and high unemployment rates have affected the national mood.
A recent jump in crime has been attributed to the uncontrolled influx, garnering further support for the extreme-right Golden Dawn party which uses aggressive rhetoric against immigrants.
Ilias Panayotaros, whose Golden Dawn MP party peaked at seven per cent in the recent parliamentary elections, called the roundup “a sham".
He criticised the police crackdown for being politically motivated so that the government coalition of New Democracy and PASOK, could recover the votes they lost to his ultra-nationalist party.
"This is either happening because, at this moment, the government is trying to pass 11.5 billion euros worth of cuts, or in my opinion it's more likely happening because Golden Dawn's percentages are steadily on the rise and they [the government] want to show they are dealing with the massive problem of illegal migration," Panayotaros said.
Source: Associated Press