ATHENS, January 3, 2011 (AFP) – Greek Immigration Minister Christos Papoutsis on Monday defended plans to block part of its border with Turkey to stem illegal immigration into the European Union.

Athens will “put in place means to push back illegal migrants,” on 12.5 kilometers (eight miles) of the border, the minister said in a statement, adding that this stretch was totally unprotected.

Papoutsis, in a broadside at critics, denounced the “hypocrisy of those who criticize,” the plan and underscored Greece’s duty to “protect the rights of its citizens and those who live legally in the country.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly urged Greece to ensure its efforts to fight illegal immigration do not harm legitimate asylum-seekers, including Afghans, Iraqis and Somalis.

In Brussels, Michele Cercone, the spokesman for EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem, said on Monday that “walls and bars are short-term measures which will not allow us to tackle illegal immigration in a structural manner.”

The targeted zone has become the main entry point for illegal border crossers. From January to the beginning of November last year, 32,500 illegal migrants were intercepted here.

More than 200 guards with European border agency Frontex were deployed in the area in November, which the agency said led to a 44 percent drop in the number of illegal entries.