A Wave Of Illegal Immigrants Floods Greece Despite EU assistance, Greece is overwhelmed by the influx of migrants who believe the financially crippled nation still has more to offer than their home countries.
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A Wave Of Illegal Immigrants Floods Greece

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A Wave Of Illegal Immigrants Floods Greece

A Wave Of Illegal Immigrants Floods Greece

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GUY RAZ, host:

As the country of Greece continues to reel from an economic crisis, anti-immigrant feelings are on the rise there. More than 90 percent of all illegal immigrants who've arrived in Europe this year have come through the Greek border with Turkey.

That's where our reporter Joanna Kakissis went to file this story.

JOANNA KAKISSIS: It's a cloudy morning outside the police station in Orestiada. Officers are leading seven young migrants, all men from Afghanistan and Pakistan, into an armored van. One gives his name as Hamain. He's a shy, skinny 17-year-old from a village near Kandahar.

HAMAIN: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: I come from a poor family, he says, and I want to get an education.

(Soundbite of doors closing)

KAKISSIS: The police shut the van's doors and drive away.

(Soundbite of birds)

KAKISSIS: This is where they're taking Hamain, but he probably won't stay for long. The Fylakio detention center lies amid cotton fields and acacia trees. Birds perch on the tall barbed-wire fence that surrounds the center. It's so crowded here that police must release migrants right after they're processed.

One migrant released on this day is Aoua Nasrudin, who's 35 and from Sudan.

Mr. AOUA NASRUDIN: To work there and get money, it's difficult to get money there. And there's a war there, and people kill each other. That's why we leave because it's not good for us.

KAKISSIS: In the past, Nasrudin and other migrants would have crossed a sea to reach Europe. But better coast guard patrols have cut off those routes. So smugglers now use the land border between Greece and Turkey. Illegal crossings here went up nearly 370 percent this year, says Frontex, the European Union border agency.

Michal Parzyszek is a Frontex spokesman.

Mr. MICHAL PARZYSZEK (Spokesman, Frontex): This is a really massive flow of migrants across the borders. I mean, people are asking what Greece could do. I mean, I cannot imagine any country to handle this issue alone.

KAKISSIS: Frontex says fewer people have crossed since November, when the agency sent 175 officers here to help the Greek police.

Ms. EVA HATZIAGNIDOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Eva Hatziagnidou is happy Frontex is here. She runs a kiosk in Nea Vyssa. It's a quiet village near the Turkish border. At night, she sees migrants walking through the farm fields. In the morning, she sees them bathing in the stone fountain in the main square.

Ms. HATZIAGNIDOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Who are these people, she says. And what do they want? You just don't know because they're strangers.

The migrants travel without papers. Frontex says almost half claim false nationalities from war-torn countries to get asylum. Getting into Greece can be dangerous. Many migrants have drowned crossing the nearby Evros River.

Mr. MEHMET SERIF DAMADOGLOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: The police bring the bodies to this man. Mehmet Serif Damadoglou is the mufti in the mixed Christian and Muslim region of Evros. He buries the dead on a hill near his village. He says he also worries about the living.

Mr. DAMADOGLOU: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Without passports or money, he says, they're falling into a trap.

Most migrants released from detention centers must leave Greece within 30 days. But most only get as far as Athens.

In a dreary courtyard in the city center, migrants line up for free food prepared by local churches. Nidal Saker is a 40-year-old Palestinian who came from Gaza five months ago. He says he was beaten by anti-immigrant thugs and (unintelligible) limps on crutches.

Mr. NIDAL SAKER: No house. No work. No money. No familia.

KAKISSIS: An Afghan woman who gives her name as Hasma is also in the food line. She's a 30-year-old schoolteacher from Kabul with three young children.

HASMA: We don't have money. This country's economy is very low. They don't have this much economy to accept other immigration people.

KAKISSIS: But migrants are still coming. Frontex expects more than 80,000 people to have entered Greece illegally by the end of this year.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Orestiada, Greece.

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