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Cyprus a dead end for migrants October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News.
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UN-patrolled Green Line has turned into one of the least secure land borders of the EU > Cyprus has become a waiting room for would-be EU migrants.

David, a Congolese who has been an «illegal» in Cyprus since 2005, paces each morning up and down in front of Nicosia’s historic Venetian Walls waiting to be picked up as a day laborer. «This is not the Europe that I imagined,» he sighed after several hours of waiting in vain, ready to do any job for a day’s wages. «For me, Cyprus was a stepping stone to France or Belgium, but I’m stuck here without work, without any future. This is a real prison,» said the young French speaker.

His fate is shared by most of the illegal immigrants who have made their way to the divided island of Cyprus, which became a member of the European Union in May 2004. Due to sign up to the EU’s border-free Schengen zone possibly as early as 2008, Cyprus has turned into a waiting room for would-be EU migrants, most of whom sneak in on the side of the Turkish occupied and military controlled north area of the Republic of Cyprus.

Over the past three years, the UN-patrolled Green Line dividing the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities has turned into one of the least secure land borders of the EU. Only a few hundred people made the journey to Cyprus in 2002, before it was part of the EU, compared to more than 3,200 illegals who have arrived so far this year alone. The new arrivals are mostly from Syria, Pakistan, Iran and Africa, according to the Cyprus’ Immigration Office.

Many of them say they landed at the southern port of Limassol. But, in reality, «most of us arrived through the north,» said Adnan, a 26-year-old man from Ivory Coast. Emilios Lambrou, from the Border Control Department, said most migrants reach Cyprus through the Turkish occupied and military controlled north area of Cyprus and Turkey, which had eased visa requirements for certain nationals, such as those from Syria and Iran, in 2003. In 2006, out of a total of 3,778 migrants who landed in Cyprus illegally, only 16 arrived on the island through the Cypriot government-controlled south, according to the Immigration Office.

But once on dry land, immigrants seek to head south. In the Turkish occupied and military controlled north area, «it’s worse. You can’t ask for political asylum, or else you are jailed straight away and then expelled,» Adnan said. He paid 2,000 dollars (1,400 euros) to cross from Egypt on a cargo ship, hidden in a container with 20 compatriots. They were dropped off «at night, somewhere in the north» and crossed the Green Line to the south.

But although Adnan has filed an application for asylum in the south, «I haven’t seen anyone official for 18 months and I’m not allowed to work.» Under Cyprus’ law, asylum seekers who have been on the island for six months are entitled to work in the agriculture and farming sectors, while they are banned from other activities.

A group of Iraqi demonstrators spent more than six months sleeping rough on the pavement on the edge of Nicosia before they were granted the right to work in an expanded number of sectors and granted housing allowances in September. In May 2007, out of 12,000 registered asylum seekers, only 300 had work permits, according to figures from Amnesty International.

Some of those with permits have taken on jobs in the countryside, like Michel, an Iranian who is employed 30 kilometers outside the southern coast resort of Limassol. «I am paid 10 euros (14 dollars) a day to look after a flock of 284 goats from 5 in the morning until 10 at night», he said. Most prefer to roam the streets of Nicosia and make do with odd jobs and the monthly government help of about 200 pounds (480 dollars), which is often difficult to obtain. Others keep a low profile rather than approach the authorities for asylum.

«People know they have no chance to be regularized and stay clandestine,» said Doros Polykarpou, head of KISA, an NGO which assists immigrants. «If the request of the asylum seeker is rejected, he is put in jail for months or sometimes years, before being deported,» said Polykarpou.

Meanwhile, the immigration office says around 200 police are patrolling the Greek-Cypriot side of the 180-kilometer buffer zone with the north to prevent further entries, a figure experts say is insufficient. Despite barbed wire and sandbag barriers in places, the division is often easy to cross.

«We thought about installing a video surveillance system in the most sensitive places but it would cost a lot of money. We can’t go so far as to build a wall,» said Emilios Lambrou of the Border Control Department. Building a wall would also amount to implicit recognition of the Turkish-occupied and military controlled north areas of the Republic of Cyprus.

As for the UN peacekeeping force on Cyprus, their job is «to ensure the ceasefire between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots is respected. They are not here to fight illegal immigration,» said UN spokesman Brian Kelly.

Cypriot Interior Minister Christos Patsalides recently said that the issue of illegal immigration, especially from the occupied areas, was one of the «most serious problems we are facing as a state today.» «The problem must concern all EU states,» he said.

The porous Green Line is a worry for Brussels, especially with the Schengen free movement agreement in the offing for Cyprus. «Signing the agreement risks being delayed. First a committee has to study security at our airports and on the Green Line. We are waiting for its advice before being able to integrate Schengen, possibly in 2009,» said Lambrou.

A government source, declining to be named, was even more cautious. «Cyprus will never integrate the Schengen space, at least not before the reunification of the island, which seems unlikely to happen soon. While waiting, Brussels will never accept such a weak border as the Green Line,» he said. The source said the only solution would be a political deal involving Ankara.

Night sea patrols seek migrants October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Greek Coast Guard officials in the Aegean have intensified their patrols, particularly at night, in a bid to curb a surge of immigrants seeking to enter the country illegally from the neighboring Turkish coast.

The Port Authority has increased patrols after dark as this is when most smugglers’ boats try to make the brief crossing from Turkey to one of Greece’s Aegean islands, an official say. “The main problem is the long sea border we share with Turkey, the closeness of the Greek and Turkish coastlines and the organized smuggling rings,” Lesvos Port Authority Chief Apostolos Mikromastoras said. “With the means that traffickers have at their disposal, they can cover the shortest distance between our coasts in just five minutes,” he said. Smugglers use speedboats that can operate up to 70 knots, or 130 kilometers per hour, or low-lying inflatable dinghies that can elude the coast guard’s radar.

When smugglers are approached by the Greek Coast Guard, even at night, they often throw would-be migrants overboard, the captain of a patrol vessel, said. According to Coast Guard officials, migrants are often “trained” to abandon their vessel if approached by Greek authorities by smugglers who tell them that “the Greeks will not let you drown.”

According to Greek officials, the modes of travel used by would-be migrants entering Greece depend upon the fee paid to traffickers. “Those who have money are taken by speedboat to an Aegean island where they are picked up by another trafficker who helps them board a ferry to Piraeus,” a Port Authority official said. Those less fortunate are crammed onto, rarely seaworthy, wooden boats to undergo a slower, far riskier, journey to Samos, Lesvos, Chios or some other Aegean island. Many of those reaching the western port of Patras are packed into commercial containers and loaded onto ships bound for Italy.

Athens celebrates liberation October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture Heritage.
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athens_celebrates.jpg  Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis takes part in a flag-raising ceremony on the Acropolis yesterday held to mark the departure of German occupation forces from Athens 63 years ago.

“One way to maintain history written by others and revive collective historical memories is to save and pass on moments of freedom” said the Mayor.

Grevena to be Greece’s first ‘organic’ prefecture October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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The government envisions converting Grevena into Greece’s first “organic” prefecture, Development Minister Christos Folias said Saturday.

The Minister was addressing the opening session of the two-day 1st International Symposium on the theme “Creating the Future with Social Responsibility”, adding that the initiatives and interventions of recent years were already yielding tangible and measurable results for the region.

Already, 15 percent of the arrable land in Grevena was producing organic produce, making it the top such producer in Greece, in which the average was 2 percent, Folias said, noting that Grevena was also among the top “organic” producers at European level, too. “The wager to render Grevena the greenest prefecture in Greece will definitely be won,” Folias said, and called on all the local residents and leaders to help achieve that goal.

In recent years, he continued, a total of 428 projects with an overall budget of 605 million euro were “unfolding” in Grevena, laying the groundwork for “achieving much more in the wider area”. He said that, under the Development Ministry’s Operational Programme “Competitiveness”, 44 projects budgeted at 14.5 million euro were underway in Grevena in the sectors of tourism, commerce, processing-manufacturing and personnel training, with 250 business concerns receiving subsidies for investment plans estimated at more than 100 million euro.

Referring to the 100 million euro development plan for Northern and Central Pindos, he said the project was proceeding at a rapid pace and in a spirit of cooperation and solidairyt along four axes, which concern improvement of the fundamental infrastructures and quality of life, strengthening of the productive environment, projection and utilisation of the natural and cultural heritage, and upgrading the human dynamic.

Folias explained that the government endorsed “entrepreneurship with a social face and partnership responsibility”, noting that among the top priorities was investment in organic farming and stockbreeding. He also noted that the government backed private initiatives, which he called “the DNA of the Greeks”.

Rhodes marina project moves October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Infrastructure, Tourism.
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Greece’s Emporiki Bank announced yesterday it is undertaking the funding of the Rhodes marina, bringing the project one step closer to implementation.

Following the approval by the Tourism Development and Economy Ministries, the bank will fund the project with 55.95 million euros, from an estimated total of 62.5 million euros budgeted for the marina.

More state firms to be privatized October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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The Greek Government intends to sell stakes in Postal Savings Bank and Attica Bank, but keep control of ATEbank > Attica Bank is next in line for privatization, and is set to hire a strategic consultant in the next few weeks.

One after another, the myths generated in recent weeks about the government’s new privatization program are beginning to dissolve. The first one to go was that of OTE’s rumored merger with Cosmote, which is not going to happen, at least for the time being.

Up next is the case of ATEbank. Informed sources in the government suggest that “there is no chance of selling the bank or forging a strategic alliance with any investor, Greek or foreign.” This was expressed in the most emphatic way and is clear enough.

“The situation of ATEbank remains exactly as the Prime Minister has outlined: It will continue to operate as it is and to offer its services as today,” the sources said. This means that the government does not have in its plans any prospect of parting with a majority stake in the bank.

On the other hand, no official source will refute the prospect of one or more placements of ATE in the next few months within the context of its gradual privatization. However, even this prospect is not as immediate as the market may think, and at any rate would be limited as the state’s stake in the bank cannot be any lower than 51 percent. That prospect is remote because any such initiative would require a “correction” in the price of the bank’s stock, according to market experts.

In the case of Postal Savings Bank (TT), sources suggest that the government has started to make its final decisions: The state at present controls directly 36 percent of the corporation and another 10 percent indirectly, through Hellenic Post. This means it owns 46 percent of the TT share capital. It can almost be taken for granted that in the next few months the government will proceed to one or two more placements within the context of TT’s gradual privatization which started with the bank’s listing.

When that will happen cannot be determined yet. However, the first step will be taken soon, but depends on many factors, the general economic environment, stock market conditions etc. The most likely scenario is that at the end of this process, the state will have direct control of 20 percent of TT’s share capital.

There are two possibilities for what will happen next: A strategic partner will be sought to acquire the stake, operate as the main shareholder and run the corporation, or the National Bank of Greece model will be followed. In the first option, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis prefers a solution from abroad, as in the case of Emporiki Bank. Yet if this materializes, it will face the strong resistance of the Greek contenders. In Emporiki’s case, the government’s response to the domestic candidates’ pressure was that it did not wish to destabilize the local balance of power on the market. In the second option, the corporation may be fully privatized, but gradually. Unlike Emporiki, in TT’s case, the state may retain a strong stake, not to mention its indirect stake through Hellenic Postal; however its majority ownership will definitely become a thing of the past.

The main issue concerning the management of OTE telecom is the question whether it should merge with its subsidiary cellphone network Cosmote or not.

The noises coming from the government suggest that at this phase this is not going to happen. “After all, it would not be in the state’s interests for the government to do such a thing, as it would signify the further reduction of the stake it has in the group,” sources say.

In any case, though, the same sources add that “it is the management of the corporation and President Panagis Vourloumis who will make this decision.”

The first step by the Economy Ministry within the context of the new privatization program will be the sale of Attica Bank, or the forging of a strategic alliance with a Greek or foreign investor.

On this occasion, no one will be barred from participating in the bidding. The process is expected to begin soon, definitely before the end of the year. The bank’s management will in the next few weeks choose a strategic consultant who will scan the domestic and foreign market for interested investors and then make some initial proposals to the management and the bank’s main shareholders.