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Greece Downsizes Plans for Anti-Immigration Wall along Turkey Border

Date: 06.01.2011

There are indications that instead of building a 206-km wall against illegal immigration along its land border with Turkey, Greece will construct a limited fence in one border section.

After in the last days of 2011, Greece's Citizens Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis stated that the Greek government is considering fencing off its territory along its Turkish border to beat back the influx of illegal immigrants into the EU, on Monday new plan released by the Ministry, cited by DPA, 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.

The Greek government seems to be backing away from its original plan, which Papoutsis described as similar to the anti-immigrant wall that the USA built along its border with Mexico, as international media and NGOs have slammed the idea over New Year's weekend.

The only comments on part of the EU executive so far, the European Commission, have come from Michele Cercone, spokesman person for Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstroem.

"Fences and walls have, in the past, proven to be really short-term measures that don't help to address and manage migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way... [Greece] needs sound and long-term structural reforms and measures in order to better manage its border, address the challenges linked to migration flows and create a sound and efficient asylum system," he said.

Cercone has pointed out that border control and the influx of illegal immigrants depend on the dialogue with the source and transit countries. He said the EC is negotiating with Turkey on the readmission of illegal migrants that entered the EU through its territory – even though an actual agreement is still not on the horizon.

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 said over the weekend that, in 2010, an average of '200 refugees each day' had crossed into Greece from Turkey.

Around 80 per 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.

Police officers and equipment from Bulgaria, Germany, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Denmark deployed along the border with Turkey in Northeastern Greece, which is a major point of entry into the EU for illegal immigrants.

The mission is expected to last till March 2011 and is focusing on policing a previously unguarded 12-km section of a river border between the towns of Nea Vyssa and Orestiada, on the Maritsa River.

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.

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.

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.

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 and Bulgarian land borders with Turkey — now confirmed as the dominant country of transit for irregular migration into the EU.

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