Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Greece to ‘Seal’ Border Against Syrian Refugees

Greece will add 1,800 guards along its northern border with Turkey and put 26 floating barriers along the river that divides the countries in an attempt to keep a potential wave of refugees fleeing Syria out of the country, officials said.

Greece has long accused Turkey of failing to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the river -- known as the Evros in Greece and Meric in Turkey -- and who use Greece to seek political asylum or as a jumping-off point to reach Europe.

Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said the new guards will join the current force of 600 and boost other defenses.

In addition, a 10km fence on the Greek-Turkish border, costing an estimated 3.2m euros, is expected to be completed in October.

Dendias said Greece has "major concerns" about the situation in Syria, where an estimated 19,000 people have been killed in a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime since rebellion broke out 16 months ago. More than 40,000 Syrians are taking refuge in Turkey camps.

"Our aim is to put an end to Greece's porous frontier," Dendias said after meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whose platform ahead of the critical June 17th elections was to rid Greece of illegal immigrants. "We want to seal the river so that Greece is no longer used as an 'open gate' [by immigrants]," Dendias added.

About 55,000 people crossed the 206km-border between Turkey and Greece last year, an increase of 17% from 2010. An estimated 75% of illegal entries into Europe come through Turkey.

There’s no sign, yet, of Syrians making the trek across Turkey to enter Greece. But that hasn’t stopped Greece from taking action, even as the Greek border guard officers' association complains that the decision to increase border patrols is poorly planned and will have little effect unless plans to build dozens of immigrant detention centers are carried out first.

"Without other parts of the programme in place, the presence of police along the border does not act as a deterrent. It acts as a magnet," association General-Secretary Constantine Arzoumanidis told The Associated Press. "Immigrants know they give themselves up to the police at the border, [but] because of the detention space, in a few days they will be free in Athens."

Turkish officials declined to speak on the record about the project.

Mehmet Gucer, who heads the Centre for Social Studies at the International Strategic Research Organisation in Ankara, said Greece may be using the Syrian crisis as a ruse to show strength against Turkey.

"Syrian refugees are, to my knowledge, not moving through Turkey and are concentrated on the border between Turkey and Syria … maybe Greece is playing with tightening its borders … but Turkey is not going to accept that type of condition," he told SETimes.

John Nomikos, an intelligence and security analyst who heads the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American Studies, said Greece should have long ago tightened steps to seal its borders against illegal immigrants.

"Greece needs a strategy to train and keep people there, while at the same time keep pressure on the Turkish government," to prevent the flow of immigrants across the border, he said.

Professor Stratos Georgoulas, who heads the Department of Sociology at the University of the Aegean on the island of Lesbos, 5.5km off the coast of Turkey, said the policy "is a bad idea."

"Greece has been trying to police refugees and it's a crime against this population … it's not humanitarian," he said. "The government is searching for a scapegoat for the financial crisis."

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens
Correspondent Alakbar Raufoglu contributed to this report.
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