Hundreds of immigrants, predominantly from North Africa, have ended their hunger strike of 44 days after accepting a deal proposed by the Government’s Interior Ministry.

The strikers have claimed the Government’s offer of an “extended state of tolerance” a huge victory as it will allow them to stay and work in Greece at least temporarily, and travel to and from their countries without facing possible deportation. It will also make it easier for them to renew their residency permits.

Petros Giotis, spokesman for Hunger Strike 300, a group of activists backing the protesters, announced the strike had ended.”Their key demands have been met…They will leave the building with papers in their hands,” he said. A statement released by the strikers said: “It is clear that long, hard struggles will be needed to end the discrimination against foreign workers who live in Greece and Europe. Undoubtedly, though, the selflessness of the 300 has opened a path of hope.”

In a win for other illegal immigrants living in Greece, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis also agreed to reduce the period of time immigrants must stay in Greece before they can apply for legalisation from 12 to eight years. However, Ragousis has not set a time frame to introduce the change.

The strikers had originally asked for a reduction from 12 to five years. An estimated half a million illegal immigrants and asylum seekers live in Greece, many of them in Athens. The hunger strikers had initially demanded the issuing of a residence permit “to all who lost their legal status despite the existence of substantial grounds, combined with the reduction or disconnection of the residence permit to the work credits, as this is a time of financial crisis”.

They had also called for the issuing of a residence permit to all those who had their application rejected during the last legalisation process of 2005. About 240 migrants have been protesting in Athens and 50 in Thessaloniki. More than 100 of them have been admitted to hospital.

Source: Athens News, Kathimerini