ATHENS: A Greek cabinet minister said Thursday illegal immigrants in the country are of different "quality" than those elsewhere in Europe, calling the situation "tragic".
"Let me tell you something else: the quality... the difference in culture of the immigrants who come here compared to other countries is tragic," said Nikos Dendias, the minister of public order and citizen protection.
"There's a difference between Sweden facing immigration from the countries of the former Soviet Union, who have a certain level of education, who are Europeans in the broad sense of the term, and Greece, which is facing immigration from Bangladesh and Pakistan."
Dendias, who heads the country's fight against illegal immigration, told Skai Radio that migrants from these countries "belong to another culture... come from a different world than us".
The minister, a member of conservative party New Democracy, added that his remarks were not intended to "devalue anyone".
According to his ministry's website, the most common nationalities of illegal immigrants arrested in Greece last year were Albanian (36 percent), Syrian (19 percent) Afghan (15 percent), Pakistani (9.4 percent) and Bangladeshi (3.5 percent).
The country arrested 39,759 illegal immigrants in the first 11 months of 2013, down from 76,878 for all of 2012 and 132,524 for 2010.
Dendias said Thursday more than 1.5 million illegal immigrants had entered Greece, a country of 11 million people, in less than 10 years.
Greece is a frequent entry point to the European Union and is among the most common transit countries for illegal immigrants, who sometimes plan to travel on to a third nation but get stuck in Greece because of EU rules making the country of entry responsible for dealing with asylum claims.
Greece, which holds the rotating EU presidency until July, has made immigration issues a priority and has said it plans to call for measures to redistribute migrants among the 28 EU member states.
"We are saying to Europeans that we need a redistribution scheme," Dendias told Skai, saying possible criteria could include the size of a country's economy, its population and its surface area.
His comments came as Greece deals with the rise of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which recent surveys have found is the country's third-most popular party despite a crackdown by authorities who have charged prominent members with belonging to a criminal organisation.