Greece, long criticised for its handling of immigrants, will grant citizenship to some 250,000 migrant children but will also send thousands of detained illegal immigrants away, a senior official told Reuters.
Human rights groups for years have denounced Greece's handling of migrants and appalling conditions in migrant detention centres in a country struggling to cope with swelling numbers of people seeking refuge in Europe.
"It's irrational that a child born and educated here cannot receive Greek nationality," Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Spyros Vougias said in an interview today.
"There will be a regulation that will rectify this inequality between immigrants' and Greeks' children," he said.
"It's about 250,000 children."
Whether the parents were legal or illegal migrants would not be an issue provided the children were born in Greece or had arrived at an early age and had received basic education in Greek schools, Vougias said.
Asked if parents of these children also would be granted citizenship, Vougias said the government was still studying the matter. He did not say when the new legislation would be passed.
The Socialists, who won a snap election on Oct.4, have set immigration at the top of their agenda, but with most Greeks believing their crisis-hit country cannot take in more migrants, striking the right balance will be a tough challenge.
Vougias said Greece would send thousands of illegal migrants away to their home country, unless they were accused of crimes. They would be offered money and given a month to leave.
The new government announced earlier this week the temporary closure of a migrant centre on Lesbos island, which Vougias had described as "Dante's hell" during a visit in October.
"We started from what was a blot in our reputation," Vougias said of the centre in which hundreds shared very few toilets and often slept on mattresses on the floor.
Vougias said a new centre in Lesbos would be ready to operate by autumn next year, while the rest of Greece's migrant centres gradually would be upgraded.
About 14,000 illegal migrants crossed the Aegean Sea in the first half of 2009, nearly twice as much as in 2008, often risking their lives in an effort to reach EU-member Greece.
The increase is partly due to the effective policies of other Mediterranean countries, such as Italy and Spain, that have cut down on sea arrival numbers, with migrants taking alternative routes even if the journey is longer, Vougias said.
Although Greece is one of Europe's main entry points for illegal immigrants, it also is the country with the lowest approval rate of asylum claims, accepting 379 people in 2008 out of nearly 20,000 requests.
Vougias said this was mainly due to inexperienced police staff at Greek borders, who could not confirm whether asylum requests were justified. He said they would be replaced by specialists.