Pakistan's embassy in Athens has been warned by authorities in Islamabad of some 10,000 illegal immigrants being moved to Greece and Italy via Turkey by a criminal network colluding with corrupt officials, a press report said Monday.

Described as the largest ever illegal movement of Pakistanis to Europe, the operation is due to take place between now and September 2007 as human smugglers exploit a recent relaxation in Greek immigration rules, the Dawn newspaper reported, citing diplomatic sources and documents it obtained.

Among the measures recently announced by the Greek government, illegal immigrants whose applications had earlier been rejected by local authorities for want of sufficient proof of their arrival in Greece before Dec 31, 2004, were now eligible to apply afresh.

Also, illegal immigrants married to a Greek national or an alien residing legally in Greece before the date are also eligible to apply again. Similarly, parents of children enrolled in government schools in Greece before this date are also permitted to apply. The new rules also apply to parents of children born in Greece before Dec 31, 2004. The network not only involves 'influential people' in Pakistan but also a number of Greek police officials who allegedly provide safe passage to immigrants, it said.

Weaknesses in law enforcement systems are first used to move people from Pakistan to Turkey, where immigrants who already made the journey said officials in army uniform helped them to cross the border in a bus.

Upon entering in Greece, illegal immigrants are transported to Athens in vehicles resembling Greek army vehicles. Another illegal immigrant said that the vehicle in which he and other members of his group were travelling to the Turkish/Greek border stopped at a certain place and a man wearing Turkish army uniform boarded the bus and helped them leave Turkey.

Pakistan is regarded as a regional hub of human smuggling and trafficking operations to Europe and the Middle East. Security services last year arrested almost 900 people engaged in the practice, according to Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency.

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