Greece has opened its first purpose-built detention centre for illegal immigrants a week before voters go to the polls in an election where immigration has become a central issue.
About 130,000 illegals enter annually, and in a country in its fifth year of recession, where pay-cuts and tax rises have become the norm, the extreme right-wing are scoring heavily with their anti-immigrant rhetoric.
According to opinion polls the once-obscure Golden Dawn, which wants to deport all immigrants, looks set to enter parliament.
Party candidate Giorgos Germenis said: “Greek factories must be reborn, Their chimneys must be filled with smoke once more, and of course all illegal immigrants must leave. If all the illegal immigrants left – and there are more than three-million – there would be three million jobs for Greeks.”
In fact official estimates put the number at around a million, and Germenis’ logic relies on an assumption that every immigrant has a job. That, though, seems to matter little to Golden Dawn’s growing band of supporters who express a feeling of that they have been abandoned by the mainstream Greek parties.
One resident in the small seaside town of Artemida, Giorgos Vardzis said: “We have despaired. We have no trust in PASOK or New Democracy. They have left us now looking around at Golden Dawn and other small parties.”
The UN High Commission for Refugees said there is a growing and worrying trend of racist attacks.
UNHCR spokeswoman in Athens Ketty Kehagioglou said: “This kind of rhetoric that stigmatises, in a generalised way, vulnerable people has only short-term benefits by those who spread the fears. But they are very dangerous in the long-term for society as a whole.”
The far-right, though, is not going unchallenged.
While the mainstream socialist PASOK party and the conservative New Democracy are scrambling for the extreme vote by promising to crack down on immigration, anti-racist campaigns have been making their voices heard.
The message at a rally in Athens said there is no room in the Greek parliament for Hitler nostalgists.