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13th Apr 2024

Greece blasts EU 'hypocrisy' for opposing Turkey wall plans

  • The Greek fence imitates the one built by the US on its border to Mexico (Photo: Pulpolux)

Athens on Sunday (9 January) has slammed the "hypocrisy" of unspecified EU member states criticising its plans to erect a wall at the border with Turkey, while at the same time denouncing its incapacity to stem irregular migration.

"It is hypocrisy when some who denounce Greece for failing to guard its borders under the Schengen Treaty also criticise us... for seeking to strengthen the watch on our borders," Christos Papoustis, the minister for citizen protection told the Real News daily.

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The European Commission last week said: "walls and barriers are short-term measures" that cannot solve immigration problems in a long-term manner. The UN's refugee agency, which has constantly slammed Greece for its poor detention conditions for irregular migrants, also warned against the plans.

Speaking in parliament on Friday, the minister defended his government's plans to build a US-style fence on its land border with Turkey.

"Greece cannot handle more illegal migrants on its territory and is determined to take all necessary measures to protect the borders, including the construction of the fence along a stretch of its land border with Turkey in Evros prefecture. At the same time, the goal set is that no illegal migrant will be left in the country," he said.

The Greek legislature voted on immigration standards and rules aiming at bringing its legislation in line with EU requirements. The bill also includes an amendment introduced by the minister, allowing some 15 former army camps to be turned into reception centres for refugees and irregular migrants.

Asked about the cost to build the 12.5 km long fence, which will cover only the most vulnerable part of the 206km-long border with Turkey, Mr Papoutsis said the comparison should be made with the price paid by Greece when 200 irregular migrants, equal to the population of a small village, cross its borders on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, Turkey has raised no objections to the plan, despite the negative image the EU may project erecting a wall on the border of a candidate country.

"To call this a wall would be wrong. It is only a barrier. We discussed the issue and we have full confidence in each other," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting his Greek counterpart on Friday.

Mr Erdogan said he was impressed to learn that Greece currently hosted about one million irregular immigrants, most of whom reached the country through Turkey.

"The figures are very, very high and they influenced my opinion," he said.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, for his part, stressed that the barrier plan did not target Turkish citizens.

"I am confident we will take our co-operation further.... We have to convince the Europeans that we have very serious and close co-operation with Turkey on the problem of illegal immigration," he added.

Conceding it is not capable of securing the land border with Turkey, Athens last fall appealed to fellow European states to send extra border guards. More than 200 guards from 24 countries teamed up under the supervision of EU's border agency Frontex, which just extended its mandate until March. The Warsaw-based agency says the mission has so far resulted in a 44 percent drop in the number of clandestine entries.

But the mission has also highlighted the importance of the "Balkan route" in the flow of irregular migrants, with bordering Bulgaria and Romania now seeing their Schengen accession delayed due to concerns in France, Germany and a handful of other countries that they will repeat the Greek scenario.

"Greece is the perfect example of what happens when you let a country in without it being fully prepared," Hugo Brady from the London-based Centre for European Reform told this website. Romania and Bulgaria were admitted in the EU too early, he said, with member states now wanting to make sure the same mistake is not repeated with the Schengen zone, especially since both countries are on key migration routes from Turkey and Ukraine.

A Schengen evaluation report on Bulgaria due later this week is set to find problems in the way the country is securing its Turkish border, AFP reported on Friday.

The news prompted Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to say that his country's external borders are "much safer than the Greek ones," in an interview with Nova TV over the weekend. He admitted however that Sofia has still work to do in combating corruption and organised crime, the main reason why France and Germany are opposing Romania and Bulgaria's entry to Schengen in March.

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The European Parliament will likely take the European Commission to court for unblocking more than €10bn in funds for Hungary last December. A final nod of approval is still needed by European Parliament president, Roberta Metsola.

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