Greece will re-examine the status of over 200 migrants on hunger strike, nearly half of whom are in hospital five weeks into their protest, a minister said Thursday.
"The government does not want a single life to be lost," Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis told state television NET. "We offer a compromise," he added, noting that the migrants could be granted temporary residence until their requests could be examined anew.
Nearly 100 of the migrants, who are mainly of North African origin and have lived and worked in Greece for years, are currently hospitalised. They are part of a 286-strong group that began the protest in late January, initially occupying a law faculty in Athens. They were later moved to a neoclassical mansion where, since Sunday, many have been refusing water as well as food.
The migrants and their supporters have shunned care from state services, relying instead on private doctors who have warned that the damage to their health will soon be irreversible.
Kastanidis on Thursday said that the migrants had turned down requests by the government to discuss their plight.
Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis said earlier this week that a support network of leftist activists was blocking efforts at talks. The migrants are supported by unions, rights groups and many academics.
Unions say migrant workers have been exploited for years in the Greek black economy, which accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of the full economy.
There are between 350,000 and 480,000 undocumented migrants in Greece, which is gripped in a growing recession that has been exacerbated by austerity measures. Some 150,000 migrant workers are currently unemployed, and since Greek law links residence permits to social insurance payments, that means they could soon lose their legal status.
The Greek government, which has faced a huge migrant influx from Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent in recent years, has turned down calls for a mass legalisations for the protesters. But the Labour Ministry this week said it would consider easing residency regulations in view of the economic crisis.