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Migrants end Greek hunger strike after government offer

09 March 11 19:33
Migrant workers celebrate in Athens (9 March 2011)

Nearly 300 migrant workers in Greece have ended a six-week hunger strike after the government offered a deal over residence permits.

Details of the deal were not immediately available but it is believed the mainly North African protesters will get temporary permits.

More than 100 protesters had been taken to hospital and some were being treated for acute kidney failure.

Many of the hunger strikers had lived and worked in Greece for years.

Despite not achieving all their aims, the protesters - illegal immigrants and asylum seekers - are claiming victory over the government, our correspondent says.

They wanted the state to stop treating them like illegal immigrants and grant them permanent residence status as well as work permits.

The government now appears to have persuaded them to accept a compromise under which they will have temporary residence permits that will be automatically renewed every six months while individual cases are investigated.

Residence permits are necessary in Greece to receive social insurance payments, and because unemployment has risen steeply as a result of the economic crisis, the number of people requiring welfare has also increased.

The end of the hunger strike will do little to alter Greece's international reputation for dealing with asylum seekers, our correspondent says, as it rejects 99% of all claims.

Greece has become the main transit point for illegal migration into the European Union. In the first six months of 2010, it reported 45,000 illegal border crossings into its territory.

In an October 2010 report by UN special rapporteur Dr Manfred Novak, Greece's asylum system was described as "dysfunctional".

Dr Novak said that many of Athens' police stations were being used as detention centres for migrants and although the Greek government wanted to improve the situation it lacked the funds to do so.

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