Greece - Turkish Border Fence / Evros River Fence
Greece and other European nations blamed Erdogan for deliberately pushing the migrants into Europe and, effectively, weaponizing the refugee problem. Turkey opened its western borders late in February, claiming that it was no longer able to sustain the migrant burden all by itself. Turkey and the EU reached an agreement on migrants back in 2016, with the EU agreeing to provide some €6 billion ($6.6 billion) to help resettle the displaced people, while Ankara promised to keep them away from Europe. The EU signaled it was ready to allocate additional funding to Turkey to prevent the looming migrant crisis, but insisted Ankara must stop using the migrants as a political weapon first.
Turkey’s border will remain open for migrants seeking to reach the EU, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 06 March 2020. Thousands of illegal migrants have amassed at the border with Greece, facing off with police and trying to break through.Ankara will not try to stop the refugees flowing to Europe, Erdogan told reporters as he was flying home from Moscow, where he had agreed a ceasefire document on Syria’s Idlib with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The situation at the Greek-Turkish border remained very tense — some 35,000 migrants had amassed there, only to get turned away by the border guard and the police. On Friday, migrants protested actions of the Greek authorities at the Pazarkule border crossing, insisting that they want to get into the EU seeking “freedom.” Greece accused Turkey of firing tear gas and smoke grenades into country’s territory, in an attempt to provide cover for the migrants trying to break in, as well as providing them with wire cutters to rip through the border fencing.
The 182-kilometer [113-mile] border between Greece and Turkey is the easternmost land border of the European Union. A vestige of the countries' 1974 conflict over Cyprus, the border is militarized. Greek authorities buried 25,000 antipersonnel and anti-tank mines in the rugged 11-kilometer the Evros section. Minefields are surrounded by double barbed-wire fences that are 1.7 meters [5.4 feet] high, with orange warning signs with the word "mine" in English and Greek, or a skull and crossbones. The minefield fences are not the border, which is little more than a ditch.
Migrants passing through Turkey may become mine casualties in Greek minefields as they attempt to cross the border illegally from Turkey into Greece. On 5 December 2004, two Turkish men were killed on the Greek side of the border while crossing from Turkey illegally. In April 2005, a Turkish truck driver was killed in Iraq by a roadside mine.
In December 2009, at the Second Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, Greece announced it was in full compliance with Article 5 of the treaty. In May 2009, Greece had reported that a total of 23,836 emplaced antipersonnel mines had been destroyed across 55 of 57 minefields. Greece’s statement at the Second Review Conference declared that all 57 minefields laid by Greece in 1974 along the Evros river on the heavily militarized northeastern part of its border with Turkey, had been cleared of antipersonnel mines. A total of 24,751 antipersonnel mines were found.
In 2003, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) official said Greece intended to maintain defensive minefields on the border with Turkey, so it began removing antipersonnel mines from the existing mixed minefields, and replaced the existing antivehicle mines. At the time, officials stressed that “standard” antivehicle mines, without antihandling devices, were being used. By March 2004, 11 minefields had been re-laid in this way. In 2004, Greece planned to clear/convert ten more minefields on the Evros. Since 2005, Greece has not reported on the status of the antivehicle mines and it is presumed they were not cleared and still pose a threat.
Greek Public Order Minister Christos Papoutsis announced the fence plans at the border village of Kantanies. Christos Papoustis, a former European commissioner, said the fence has both "practical and symbolic value." Turkey's visa-free regime with some countries - including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Jordan, Libya and Iran - makes the border a crossing of choice.
Most of Greece's 125-mile border with Turkey runs along a river known as Evros in Greece and Meric in Turkey, but there is a small stretch of dry land between the two countries which is where the new fence will be built. Near the city of Orestiada, the river loops east and runs for about 12 kilometres on the Turkish side, with the Greek-Turkish land border located in this loop. The river can be crossed with small boats in winter, or on foot in summer when conditions are dry.
Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis proposed in December 2010 building a barrier stretching for more than 200 kilometers along the Turkish border. By January 2011, the plan was for a 12.5-kilometer (7.77 miles) barricade fence along one section of the Turkish border in the Evros River region. The proposed fence would cover a short section of the Greece-Turkey border in the Orestiada area of north-eastern Greece to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. The area has become the main route into Greece for migrants from Africa and Asia with an average of 245 people crossing illegally every day in October 2010, according to Frontex, the EU's border agency.
Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis justified the decision, with a statement published on the ministry's website on 04 January 2011. "It is hypocritical to criticise Greece for failing to guard its borders and then criticise it simply because [the country] wants what is a given - to beef up security along the border... "Perhaps some people would rather like Greece to become a longterm detention centre for migrants who travel from across the world in the hope of reaching other countries in the European Union. But Greek society can no longer bear the burden."
The length of Greece's state border is 1,228 km. Border countries are Albania (282 km), Bulgaria (494 km), Turkey (206 km), FYROM (246 km). Turkey is seeking membership in the European Union, and Greece is the only European Union member with a common land border with Turkey. Greece's borders are EU external borders, though Greece is characterised by unique border conditions, as it has no common borders with any other EU country.
Greece has become the main gateway for illegal migrants hoping to reach Europe, and most cross over the country's border with Turkey. Illegal immigration has swelled in recent years as people fleeing war-zone countries like Iraq and Afghanistan seek entry to the European Union through Greece's borders. An estimated half a million illegal immigrants and asylum seekers live in Greece, which has a population of about 11 million inhabitants. This is roughly one illegal immigrant for every 20 citizens. In the United States, the ratio is probably closer to one illegal immigrant for every 30 citizens. Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said more than 100,000 people had entered Greece illegally in 2009. Frontex, the EU's border agency, reports that an average of more than 200 migrants were detected illegally crossing the Greek-Turkish bordereach day in October 2010.
Greece is under significant pressure from migration flows at its borders. Over 80% of illegal migrants caught on the EU's external borders are caught on Greece's borders. So it's an EU problem, not just a Greek problem. That is why, under the coordination of Frontex - the EU's border security agency - operation Poseidon is being carried out along the sea borders with Turkey. To deal with the dramatic rise in illegal migration on the land borders with Turkey the Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) have been deployed for the first time on a European level. Hungary is participating with its own equipment and personnel in both these operations.
The situation is further exacerbated by the asylum system currently in force, the Dublin II Regulation. The criterion of country of first entry says that the member state responsible for considering the application for asylum is the member state the asylum seeker first entered. This puts disproportionate weight on the member states on the EU's external borders. If a person who passes through Greece applies for asylum in Sweden or Germany, their fingerprints show up on the eurodoc system, and they're sent back to Greece to await adjudication of their asylum petition.
Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas was interviewed on Skai TV's "Front Line" on Monday, 10 January 2011. He spoke on illegal migration and the construction of an artificial barrier along a section of the Greek-Turkish border. "Illegal migration was one of the main subjects. And here we agreed on close Greek-Turkish cooperation, because we said that this is not an issue that concerns only Greece. Unfortunately, Greece has borne the brunt of this phenomenon, but because the migration flows come from Turkey, today we need close cooperation with Turkey in this sector."
"We made it clear that this is not a measure against Turkey and the Turkish people. It concerns the effort to protect Greece's borders from the illegal migration flow. And Turkey and the Turkish Prime Minister understood that Turkey has an immediate interest in cooperating closely with Greece. Turkey wants the visa requirement for Turks visiting the EU to be abolished. The EU is maintaining a guarded stance on this. I say it outright so that we can be clear on this: Greece has no problem with the lifting of the visa requirement for Turks, because we saw this summer, for example, that there can be major gains in the tourism sector. Removing the visa requirement - and let's be clear on this - doesn't mean that you can't carry out the necessary controls at your borders. It just means that you facilitate access for Turkish nationals. So Turkey wants the visa requirement abolished for Turkish nationals visiting the European Union. So, here, our argument was that it is in Turkey's interest for us to control the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey more effectively, because if we do control it, it can't be used as an argument for the visa requirement anymore."
Most Greeks agree with the government's plan, a poll showed. Eight of every 10 Greeks support the proposal, and almost nine in 10 said immigrants who don't qualify for asylum should be expelled from the country, according to the Marc SA poll of 1,014 Greeks published in Ethnos newspaper in January 2011.
Michele Cerone, European Commission spokesperson, said "Fences and walls have proven in the past to be really short term measures that don't really help addressing more and managing the migratory challenges.... [they are] short-term measures which will not allow us to tackle illegal immigration in a structural manner... We made clear with Greece that the country needs sound and long-term structural reforms and measures to better manage its border, to better address the challenges linked to migration flows ... It is important that these borders... are managed in order to discourage and interrupt traffickers and smugglers that exploit [illegal immigrants]."
Over 1,000 members of anti-racism groups, leftists and immigrants marched in central Athens to protest against the controversial plan to build the fence at the border with Turkey to stop illegal immigrants. Over 100 members of neo-Nazi groups and about 200 local residents attacked the leftists and other protesters with stones.
Thousands of illegal immigrants cross from Turkey into Greece at the 6-mile-long point each year. Greek officials have said that more than 47,000 migrants were detained in Evros in 2011, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most claimed asylum or refugee status. Frontex, the EU's border control agency, reports that there are also many migrants from North Africa seeking to enter Europe who use the land crossing as an alternative to the hazardous boat journey across the Mediterranean Sea. By one estimate, almost 1,500 people were killed attempting the sea crossing in 2011. In January 2012, some 2,800 migrants tried to cross through the strip, down from around 6,000 a month in the summer of 2011.
Michele Cercone, spokeswoman for EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, said in Brussels 07 February 2012 that the commission had declined the Greek request for funding for the fence in the Evros region. Cercone dismissed the idea of fences and walls along borders, calling them counterproductive temporary solutions and noting the commission had turned down similar ideas from other nations. "The commission has decided not to follow up the Greek request because it considers it pointless," Cercone said in a Focus News Agency report. "Fences and walls are short-term measures that do not solve migration management issues in a structural way."
On 10 February 2012 Giacomo Santini, Chair of the Immigration Committee at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), , criticized Greece for the planned wire fence at the Turkish-Greek border. Santini stressed that the wire fence "would not solve any problem, generate more danger and lead to more loss of lives ... Those who want to go to Europe will seek alternative ways. We have witnessed this in the Mediterranean before. When obstacles increase, migrants choose alternative routes. The migration presently takes place through Turkey. However, the migrants will opt for north-eastern countries and try to reach Europe by crossing the mountains." Greece needs assistance and support. Santini also said Europe must show solidarity and share responsibility in dealing with illegal migration.
International organizations criticized conditions for detained immigrants at certain detention centers and police stations, citing overcrowding, unhygienic facilities, a lack of outdoors and exercise space, and the intermingling of unaccompanied minors with adults and female with male detainees. Some authorities reportedly failed to advise detainees of their rights. NGOs and international entities reported that certain smaller police and border guard stations had especially poor conditions.
In its June 2009 report on prison and detention center conditions, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticized the government for overall unacceptable prison conditions and noted that there had been no improvement since 1993 with regard to such problems as the lack of access to medical treatment and legal counsel or the failure to provide forensic medical examinations for detainees who alleged mistreatment. The CPT repeated many criticisms from its 2006 and 2008 reports, observing that conditions in many police and border guard stations were poor, with overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, a lack of outdoor exercise facilities, and poor access to medical care. The CPT reported that the worst facilities included the Xanthi police and border guard station, which it called dark, filthy, smelly, and dilapidated; the CPT recommended that this facility be closed and renovated.
The CPT report also observed that police station facilities designed for short-term stays were used for prolonged detention, that most toilet and shower facilities were filthy and in many facilities only partially operable, and that most detention facilities lacked call bells. The CPT also found that detainees were rarely informed of their rights in a language they could understand. The CPT criticized the government for lacking an independent authority to inspect prisons and investigate allegations of mistreatment.
Many humanitarian organizations continued to criticize conditions in facilities for illegal immigrants, including detention centers and police and border guard stations. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs echoed the CPT's observations, noting that conditions in detention centers for illegal aliens were unacceptable and amounted to serious violations of human rights. While noting that the government faced a significant influx of illegal migrants, the CPT stated that this could not justify the overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and lack of legal aid or medical care for detained immigrants.
Diplomatic observers noted in July 2009 that the Port Authority of Patras continued using converted metal shipping containers to hold detained immigrants. During the year the deputy ombudsman for children's rights, the UNHCR, and NGOs reported that conditions in the Pagani detention center were degrading, inhumane, and unsanitary. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called the situation in the center "a continuing humanitarian crisis." Detainees slept on the floor in flooded cells and lacked exercise opportunities, and the facility, designed to hold 300 persons, housed 830, including an estimated 150 to 200 unaccompanied minors. After elections in October, the new government criticized the conditions at Pagani, temporarily closed the detention center for renovations, released some detainees, and relocated others to a detention center in Chios.
The CPT's June 30 report reiterated many of the same criticisms that it raised in 2008 of conditions for illegal migrants detained in police stations and detention centers. It noted severe overcrowding; many facilities with little or no natural light; a lack of effective ventilation; filthy common areas, toilets, and showers, access to which was limited; dirty mattresses and blankets, which detainees sometimes had to share; lack of call bells; inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent medical care; lack of access to exercise and outdoor open space; confiscation of cell phones and very limited opportunities to contact individuals outside the prison or a lawyer; and insufficient quantities of hygienic supplies, such as soap, shampoo, and toilet paper, for detainees. With the goal of containing the seemingly uncontrollable flow of migrants over land from Turkey, the government by late 2019 was reportedly mulling a plan to make the Evros River on the country’s northeast border impenetrable by extending an already existing iron fence in Orestiada along its entire length. The project will be no easy feat, technically or financially, as the Evros stretches for over 230 kilometers on the Greek side of the border. To compound matters, if the river breaks its banks in winter – not a rare phenomenon – the fence could come down.
However, despite the difficulties involved in bringing such a plan to fruition, a fence is still considered an effective means of prevention, as demonstrated by the one that already exists in Orestiada. For the time, the government was seriously considering the plan, given that there are no signs that the migrants flows will let up any time soon. Furthermore, there are no indications that Turkey will stop using the refugee/migrant issue as a weapon in the years to come – by threatening to send more people over the border if its demands are not met, depending on the state of Greek-Turkish relations and those between Ankara and Europe.
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