KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan will open an embassy in Greece within a few months to help deal with the tens of thousands of Afghan illegal migrants there, an official said Sunday.
Greece is the main entry point into Europe for migrants from across the Middle East and North Africa, including Algerians, Pakistanis, Somalis and Iraqis as well as Afghans.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Musazai said the new embassy in Athens should be open by the end of March. Kabul will close its embassy in Bulgaria at the same time, he said.
About 50,000 Afghans illegally enter Greece each year, Musazai said. Most are seeking a better life in the European Union and choose Greece because of its porous land border with Turkey. But many are either caught and jailed or find themselves stranded.
Musazai said a government delegation late last year provided 650 passports to Afghans who wanted to return home, and persuaded authorities to free 100 Afghans held in detention centers for illegal entry.
«Most of them regret leaving and don’t want to go on to any other countries in Europe,» he said. «They just want to come back but they need a passport.»
The land border between Greece, which is in the EU, and Turkey, which is not, is among the most porous of the outer boundaries of the Schengen zone, 26 European countries that have eliminated border controls. A migrant who crosses into the Schengen zone undetected can then travel on to any of those countries without showing any documents.
But many migrants are either caught in Greece or find themselves stranded with no money and no papers, often because migrant smugglers keep passports until they are paid in full.
Greece has been overwhelmed by a flood of migrants from many countries who see it as a gateway to European riches. In 2010, Greece accounted for 90 percent of the bloc’s detected illegal border crossings, compared to 75 percent in 2009.