Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

EU sending 175 armed guards to Greek-Turkish border

  • EU's "Rabit" patrols will be armed (Photo: Johnathan Nightingale)

One hundred and seventy five armed border guards from 25 European countries are to be deployed next Tuesday (2 November) on the Greek-Turkish border for a mission of two months, in a bid to help Athens stem the inflow of undocumented migrants, a move causing concern in the UN's refugee body.

''I am pleased to announce that today Frontex has signed with the Greek authorities the operational plan that will allow the deployment of the Rapid Intervention Border teams (Rabit) as of 2 November, with an anticipated duration of up to two months," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement on Friday evening.

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Following a request of the Greek government, the EU border management agency (Frontex) pooled English-speaking border patrols from all EU member states except Ireland and Great Britain, plus non-EU states Iceland and Norway.

The so-called Rabit-teams will be dispatched for "24-hour joint surveillance" with their Greek colleagues of the land border with Turkey - a stretch of some 120 km between the eastern Greek towns of Orestiada and Alexandroupolis, where most of the migrants are coming through.

The EU-armband wearing patrols are allowed to carry firearms and make use of force, if they have the consent of Greece and their home country. In a Frontex press release, the Rabit members are described as being qualified to detect false documents, stolen cars, to use trained dogs and to interview clandestine travellers via interpreters.

"A significant deterrent effect is expected in terms of the activities of organized crime rings and other facilitators of irregular migration in the area," the mission's statement reads.

A special manual prepared by Frontex is aimed at giving the new guards extra knowledge about EU law, Frontex rules of engagement and international human rights legislation.

Rabit members will be treated in the same way as Greek officials with regard to any criminal offences committed against them or by them.

Contributing countries have also put technical equipment at their disposal: one helicopter from Romania; nine big and small buses from Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania; 19 patrol cars from Romania, Austria, Slovakia and Germany; 9 "thermo-vision" vans from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany and Hungary, capable of detecting people in the dark; and three office units from Denmark.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed concern about the border crackdown on migrants who may be entitled to asylum. In a statement, the UNHCR said it recognises the need for control of the EU's external border but warned that "asylum needs should not be compromised."

Ms Malmstrom, a Liberal politician from Sweden, underlined the importance of "guaranteeing the full respect of fundamental rights and the rights of those in need of international protection."

She will also travel to Greece at the end of next week to "follow on the ground the deployment of the joint operation."

Greece has become the main entry point to the EU for migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Asia, after other countries such as Italy and Spain tightened security.

According to Frontex figures, Greece was the point of entry for about 90 percent of illegal border crossings into the EU in the second quarter of 2010, compared to 65 percent in the first quarter.

Many of the migrants who cross over from Turkey identify themselves as Afghans and ask for asylum, but only a minority have documents to their case. They end up in abhorrent jails and detention camps, heavily criticised by the UN and independent human rights groups.

"We could not handle this situation alone any more," Christos Papoutsis, Greece's minister of citizen protection has said, as quoted by Time magazine. "We don't have the centres to house the people, we don't have the staff to help them."

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