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New Greek Government Vows to End Raids Against Immigrants

A Greek immigration official said Wednesday that leaders plan to do away with operation “Xenios Zeus” — sweeps intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Athens.

by Alice Speri
Feb 4 2015, 10:20pm

Photo de Petros Giannakouris/AP

Among the many radical changes promised by Greece's new government is an overhaul to the country's anti-immigration policies — including an end to deeply controversial raids against undocumented migrants in the capital, which rights groups have long condemned.

Tasia Christodoulopoulou, a lawyer and human rights activist who was recently sworn in as alternate interior minister for immigration policy, said on Wednesday that Greece's new leaders plan to do away with operation Xenios Zeus — sweeps intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Athens —Greek news website Left.gr reported.

A majority of migrants arriving in Greece over the last few years have been refugees of war, many of them Syrians. "We have to give these people asylum and protection," Christodoulopoulou said.

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She added that the new government would also look into replacing the country's migrant reception centers, described as "squalid" by rights groups. "These camps are incompatible with humanitarianism, the rule of law, and any sense of reason," said Christodoulopoulou, adding that the new government would also seek a revision of the Dublin Regulation, which determines asylum procedures within the European Union.

Greece would like refugees to be distributed among European states. Currently, however, refugees are required to seek asylum in their first port of entry, a rule that has overwhelmed countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, where most migrants first make landfall in Europe.

Last week, Christodoulopoulou announced that Greece would grant citizenship to all children of migrant parents who were born and raised in the country.

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"Syriza has committed to grant Greek citizenship to all those children that were born and raised in Greece, the so-called second generation of migrants" she said. "Even those that were not born in but came to Greece very young, attended and finished school here."

Operation Xenios Zeus was named after the Greek god who served as the patron of hospitality and launched by Greece's previous government in 2012 against the backdrop of growing xenophobia in the country — a time when neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn led the opposition. It was subsequently slammed as one of the harshest and most violent anti-immigration initiatives in Europe.

"Since the start of the operation, tens of thousands of people presumed to be undocumented migrants have been subjected to abusive stops and searches on the streets, and hours-long detention at police stations," Human Rights Watch said a year into the operation, condemning Greek authorities for "ethnic profiling and arbitrary deprivation of liberty."

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Syriza has promised to do a 360 on immigration, just as it has on other social issues as part of its rejection of Greek austerity. But Syriza also entered a somewhat unusual coalition with the center-right Independent Greeks party, whose views on immigration are drastically different than those of Syriza.

How that will impact the party's promise to shut down Xenios Zeus remains to be seen.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi