Greece to build wall on EU-Turkey border
The Greek government plans to build a wall along its 206-km-long land border with Turkey to help keep out unwanted migrants on the model of the US border with Mexico.
Greek junior minister for citizen protection, Christos Papoutsis, a former EU commissioner for energy, made the announcement in an interview with the Athens News Agency on Friday (31 December), saying: "Co-operation with other EU states is going well. Now we plan to construct a fence to deal with illegal migration."
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"The Greek society has reached its limits in taking in illegal immigrants ... We are absolutely determined on this issue. Additionally, we want to provide a decisive blow against the migrant smuggling rings that trade in people and their hopes for a better life," he added.
Mr Papoutsis compared the planned construction to the 1,050-km-long fence running through sections of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas on the Mexico-US border.
Built at a cost of €1.8 billion over the past five years and backed-up by cameras, radar surveillance, jeep-mounted patrols and predator drones, the 4.5-metre-high metal wall initially raised howls of protest on humanitarian and environmental grounds, but has since gained widespread public support in the US.
The EU and Turkey have not reacted to the Greek plan, even though it has the potential to cause upset.
The Union frequently voices complaints against Israel's anti-Palestinian wall, while slow progress in EU-Turkey accession talks and historic Greek-Turkish tensions could see the new barrier become a symbol of EU antipathy toward its southern neighbour.
For its part, the European Commission in mid-December said it will extend until March its Rabit (Rapid Intervention Border Teams) mission and spend €9.8 million over the next six months on easing conditions in Greek migrant detention camps and on sending asylum and migration consultants to Athens.
The Rabit mission consists of 175 armed guards sent from 25 EU member states under the command of the Union's Warsaw-based Frontex border control agency.
Greece is the main entry-point into the EU for irregular migrants from Africa and Asia. Noting the impact of the Rabit intervention, Brussels said that 7,586 people were intercepted on the Greek border in October prior to its deployment, compared to 4,270 in November after it was put in place.
EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement on 15 December called on Athens to improve conditions in its detention centres, which were described as "inhuman" and "degrading" by the UN and by Amnesty International late last year.
"The Greek authorities are benefiting from European solidarity through a package of financial and practical assistance and I urge them to put all necessary measures in place to assist the persons in need," she said.