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THESSALONIKI, Greece - Greek authorities transferred about 1,000 undocumented immigrants to a northern border region Tuesday after a weekend police sweep in Athens led to the mass arrest of foreigners.
A local police official said the immigrants were being held in two temporarily closed police schools in Thrace, a part of north-eastern Greece bordering Turkey.
It's unclear how long the immigrants will remain in the centers, as recession-choked Greece has scant money to return them to their home countries.
Minister for Citizen Protection Nikos Dendias called on regional mayors to back the transfer, a day after they protested in the city of Komotini over the police school closures.
Dendias said he was committed to keeping the schools open and that the transfer of the immigrants to the facilities was "a provisional step to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants", which he called a "question of national survival".
"In the name of your patriotism and the instinct for the survival of the Greek citizen, I ask for your support for this effort," he said. "You know well that the question of illegal immigration is one of the country's biggest problems, along with the economy."
He described as a "national effort" the ongoing operation to arrest undocumented immigrants who live "in hidden ghettos and become victims of exploitation which in turn drives criminality."
Greece is struggling with a crippling economic crisis and severe austerity cuts, leading to rising social tensions, an increase in racist attacks and support for a neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant party, which won 18 of 300 seats in June parliamentary polls.
According to Monday's tallies, more than 6,000 people were questioned during the Athens crackdown. A total of 1,595 of them were arrested and face deportation.
In the port city of Patras, authorities arrested about 300 immigrants as part of the same operation.
Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the socialist Pasok party, has called for immigration laws to be respected but said he worried the clampdown would simply see the problem shift to other towns in Greece's north.