EU to deploy armed patrols at Greek-Turkish border
The EU is to deploy border patrols in Greece in a bid to stop the increasingly high numbers of irregular migrants crossing over from Turkey, days after Athens was criticised by the United Nations over its "appalling" conditions for detainees.
"The situation at the Greek land border with Turkey is increasingly worrying. The flows of people crossing the border irregularly have reached alarming proportions and Greece is manifestly not able to face this situation alone. I am very concerned about the humanitarian situation," home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement on Sunday (24 October).
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Following a request from the Greek government, the EU will deploy its Rapid Border Intervention Teams (Rabit-s) for the first time since their creation in 2007.
Drawn from the member states' "national reserve" put at the disposal of Frontex, the EU's border control agency, the Rabit-s are mandated to observe national and EU law and will be embedded with Greek border patrols.
The Rabit-s have authorisation to access Greek databases and "when necessary, use force." They are authorised to carry their service weapons and national uniform, but will wear a blue armband with the EU and Frontex logo.
During their deployment, Rabit-s are regarded as Greek border patrols if any offence is committed against or by them.
Frontex naval patrols have in the past come under fire for assisting Italian border guards in pushing back migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea without offering the minimum humanitarian assistance required under international law.
Ms Malmstrom said that she expected "proper assistance to be given to all person crossing the border and that the request for international protection will be considered, in full compliance with EU and international standards."
Earlier on Sunday, Greek home affairs minister Christos Papoutsis said that "a mass influx" of irregular migrants was registered every day at the Greek land border with Turkey "with the aim of accessing other EU countries."
"The increasing pressure of illegal migration flows on Greek borders is a clearly European problem that demands a European solution," he said.
Last week, the United Nations also called on the EU to do more to lighten the migrant burden on Greece, which it said has "catastrophic" conditions for detainees.
In 2008, 50 percent of irregular migrants arrested in the EU were detained in Greek prisons, but in the first eight months of 2010 the figure rose to 90 percent, the UN said. The detention conditions, as described by UN's special investigator on torture and cruel treatment, are "inhuman and degrading ... appalling ... dysfunctional."
After neighbouring Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Malta and Italy tightened up their border controls in past years, a bigger influx of migrants is now registered in Greece.
According to Frontex, more than three-quarters of the 40,977 people intercepted while trying to enter without proper documents into the EU in the first half of 2010 entered through Greece, mainly coming via Turkey.
Politically at odds over the island of Cyprus and with Ankara pressing the EU for visa-free travel, Turkey and Greece nevertheless recently announced "systematic bilateral co-operation" in the area of migration.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Athens on Friday, Greek premier George Papandreou said that a "xenophobic climate" is being cultivated in Europe and hoped that bilateral co-operation with Turkey would help alleviate the trend by reducing the wave of migration.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile noted the potential benefits for Greek tourism if the EU visa regime for Turkish citizens was relaxed.