TURKEY tr-diplomacy

Greece to put up anti-migrant wall on Turkish border

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 1/2/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Greece has decided to build a barrier along its border with Turkey in a bid to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the European Union, a move that was cautiously received by Ankara on Sunday. (UPDATED)

Greece has decided to build a barrier along its border with Turkey in a bid to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the European Union, a move that was cautiously received by Ankara on Sunday.

“The Greek public has gone beyond its limits in terms of its capacity to welcome illegal migrants. Greece cannot take it any more,” Greece’s immigration minister, Christos Papoutsis, told the Greek news agency Ana on Saturday, without providing any details. “We plan to build a barrier on the land border to block unauthorized immigration.”

It was the first time Papoutsis had raised the idea of building a barrier along the country’s 150-kilometer land border with Turkey, which has become the main route for illegal migrants to enter the European Union, accounting for almost half of detected illegal entries, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s a sovereign right of every country to take measures to protect its borders,” a senior Foreign Ministry official who was previously unaware of the decision told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Sunday.

“They do not have to inform us. It’s a measure to protect their border,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry official dismissed allegations that Turkey had failed to stop illegal human trafficking to Greece. “We are actively fighting against such attempts. Each year thousands of people are caught in Turkey’s territories before passing the border to Greece. This is an international issue and needs international action,” the official said.

Referring to the measures taken by the United States to fight illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border, the Turkish official said: “I have not heard that that constituted a lasting remedy for stopping the illegal immigrants. We first have to see the details of the Greek plan to be able to further comment on it. But we have to underline that Turkey will actively continue its efforts to stop illegal human trafficking.”

From January to the beginning of November last year, 32,500 illegal migrants were intercepted in a single 12.5-kilometer stretch of the Turkish-Greek border along the Evros river.

Greece currently accounts for 90 percent of the EU’s detected illegal border crossings, figures from the European border agency Frontex show. EU sea patrols in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey have stemmed much of the flow of migrants to Greek islands near the Turkish coast; the vast majority of migrants now use the northern land border, with most crossing along a 12-kilometer stretch near Orestiada.

More than 200 Frontex guards were deployed in the area in November, which the agency said led to a 44 percent drop in the number of illegal entries. The guards carry out day and night patrols, and interview and identify illegal immigrants in order to send them back to their home countries, Frontex spokesman Michal Parzyszek said last month. Greece became the first European Union country to ask for help from the EU’s Rapid Border Intervention Teams after hundreds of migrants from North Africa and war zones such as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan began flooding through the porous Greek-Turkish border in recent months.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has repeatedly urged Greece to ensure its efforts to fight illegal immigration do not harm legitimate asylum seekers, including Afghans, Iraqis and Somalis, who are often among migrants crossing at its border.

With Greece already facing a major financial crisis, the country’s opposition, especially the left coalition SYRIZA, questioned the need for such an expensive move. The opposition said the Greek government has failed in addressing the immigration issue and accused Prime Minister George Papandreou of following EU directives without taking into account the real needs of Greek society.

The opposition argued that the ruling PASOK party has no respect for “the value of human life when it comes to an immigrant’s life or workers’ lives.”

Greek media reported that nongovernmental organizations plan to hold a rally this week against the decision and to show their support for immigrants.

Despite increased cooperation against human smuggling, Turkey and Greece have failed to sign a Readmission Agreement, prompting criticism from Brussels and Athens over Turkish sincerity in cooperating with Greece. Many immigrants who cross the border into Greece aim to reach a Western European country as their final destination. As the number of asylum seekers coming to Europe from Asian and Middle Eastern countries through Anatolia increases each year, the disagreement between Turkey and the EU deepens accordingly.

* Christos Loutradis contributed to this report from Athens.



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