Greece Determined to Fence Off Turkey Border over Migration

Bulgaria in EU | March 20, 2011, Sunday // 18:19|  views

An illegal immigrants' child is seen in a detention center in Kyprinos, in the region of Evros, at the Greek-Turkish borders, on 05 November 2010. EPA/BGNES

Greece's government has not given up on its plans to erect a fence along the country's border with Turkey in order to counter the influx of illegal immigrants, Christos Papoutsis, the Greek Minister for Citizen Protection said.

The respective procedures for the realization of the project will soon be launched, Papoutsis told the Elefteros Typos newspaper.

"We have studied the experience of other European countries such as Spain and Lithuania, and we are not starting with the construction of the fence," the minister declared.

In his words, the Greek government also intends to place thermal vision cameras, additional vehicles, and other equipment along its border with Turkey.

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East see Greece as their destination or point of entry into the EU. Only last year, their number was 128,000, the highest in all EU member states.

Greece has accused Turkey of failing to stop the wave of illegal immigrants entering Greece and ignoring an agreement to accept the return of detained immigrants.

In December 2010, the Greek government announced it was considering fencing off its territory along its Turkish border to beat back the influx of illegal immigrants into the EU.

However, at the beginning of 2011, Papoutsis indicated a project for building a 12.5-km-long and 3-m-high fence along the most problematic section of the Greece-Turkey border near the Maritsa river and the Greek town of Orestiada, a much smaller border wall than fencing off its entire 209-km land border with Turkey.

In the period of just six months up till the end of November, 33 000 illegal immigrants have been detected crossing the Greek-Turkish land border. Most are from Afghanistan, Algeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq.

Officials have stated that, in 2010, an average of '200 refugees each day' had crossed into Greece from Turkey.

Around 80 % of the illegal immigrants in the EU arrive via Greece. Large numbers then seek to reach Italy via ferry. There are currently an estimated 300,000 people living illegally in Greece.

Greece's facilities for the detention of illegal migrants have been the matter of criticism by international human rights NGOs.

In November 2010, police from across the EU arrived in Greece to patrol its border with Turkey against illegal immigrants as part of the continued "Joint Operation Poseidon" of Frontex, EU's border control agency.

This is the first time a rapid-intervention border team has been deployed to an EU member state since the Frontex teams were created in 2007.

In early March 2011, the mission of the EU border protection agency Frontex to crack down on the influx of illegal immigrants through the Greece-Turkey border was made permanent, and was said to also be expanded to cover Bulgaria's border with Turkey.

This has been announced by the European Commission as the anti-migrant operation in Northeastern Greece by members of Frontex's Rapid Border Intervention Team, or RABIT, officially ended March 2.

Frontex guards from 25 EU member states, including Bulgaria, are to remain at the most porous section of the Greek-Turkish border along the Maritsa River (known as the Evros River in Greece) at least till the end of 2011 in the "Poseidon 2011 Land Operation", an extension of the agency's Poseidon operation.

EU's Joint Operation Poseidon started in 2006 as a purely sea-based operation patrolling the coastal waters between Greece and Turkey. Since the beginning of 2010, Poseidon has also had a land-based component covering the Greek land border with Turkey

Frontex, the EU agency based in Warsaw, coordinating the operational cooperation between member states in the field of border security under the European Patrol Network project, has agreed to place 175 police officers from across the EU after last month Greece requested from it help to cope with the growing number of refugees from African countries, Iraq and Afghanistan penetrating through its river and land border with Turkey.

At the beginning of January 2011, Bulgaria joined Greece's intentions to build birder fences along the borders with Turkey. However, Bulgaria's decision was triggered by the spread of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which came from a wild boar that was killed in southern Bulgaria, near the border with Turkey.

Turkey has met with suspicion the intentions of the two countries to build border fences. According to the Chairman of Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, Sinan Ogan, the two countries have hidden agendas.

Unlike the Greek officials, the Bulgarian government not expressed any concerns yet with respect to the possibility of seeing a wave of illegal migrants try to penetrate through its border with Turkey as a result of the events in the Arab world.

In 2010, Bulgaria, which has a longer land border with Turkey than Greece, has not detected a substantial increase of illegal immigrants seeking to enter the EU even though the Bulgarian border police occasionally capture small groups of illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Unlike Greece, Bulgaria is not a member of EU's "borderless" Schengen Area yet, which for the time being seems to be diverting the illegal immigration wave from the Bulgarian-Turkish border to the Greek-Turkish border. However, even though Bulgaria failed to join the Schengen Agreement in March 2011 as originally planned, it is still likely to become a member of the borderless zone before the end of the year, which means it might also face a tide of illegal immigration.

The recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the ongoing civil unrest in Libya and other Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East have led the EU and Greece to be additionally concerned over the influx of illegal migrants, and Greece has appealed to Frontex to bolster its presence at the country's land and sea borders.

Another EU and Schengen Area member, Italy, has already seen a tide of illegal immigration from Tunisia leading EU's border agency Frontex to deploy Sunday a special mission to assist the Italian authorities in dealing with the new arrivals, especially on the tiny southern island of Lampedusa entitled "Hermes".

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Tags: illegal immigrants, Bulgaria, Egypt, turkey, border, Greek, greece, Turkish border, FRONTEX, Italy, Cecilia Malmstrom, EC, EU, illegal immigration, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Arab world, North Africa, Middle East, Operation Poseidon, RABIT, Operation Hermes, external border, Schengen, Schengen Area, Schengen Agreement, Christos Papoutsis


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