Greece builds a trench to keep out illegal migrants from Turkey | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.08.2011
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Greece builds a trench to keep out illegal migrants from Turkey

Greece has begun work on a trench along its border with Turkey. The trench, originally intended to relieve flood pressure on the river Evros, is also intended to keep out thousand of illegal migrants from Turkey.

A group of people behind coiled razor wire

Greek authorities are taking matters in their own hands

Greece has taken matters into its own hand in its attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigrants arriving from Turkey: it has started building a 120-kilometer moat along the Evros River near the Turkish border. The water-filled trench, one of the Greece largest projects along the river, will be 30 meters wide and seven meters deep, according to the Greek newspapers Ta Nea and Ta Vima. The first 14.5 kilometer section has just been completed near the town of Orestiada in northern Greece.

"It's a military operation, officials have kept it secret for the last few months," said Deutsche Welle correspondent, Christine Pirovolakis, explaining why so little had been heard so far about the trench.

Greek authorities say more than half a million illegal migrants entered Greece in the past four years. Around 128,000 did so last year alone.

Greece struggles to meet EU migration rules

Greece is obliged under European Union rules to prevent migrants without documents from moving on to other parts of the bloc. But Athens says that due to its economic difficulties, it can barely cope.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström visited the town of Orestiada in October last year. She agreed at the time that "Greece needed help urgently in creating an efficient asylum system" and that the "humanitarian situation in refugee camps was disastrous."

Greece, together with the European Union border agency Frontex, has since increased its sea and land border patrols, fearing the escalating crisis in North Africa and the Middle East could trigger a wave of illegal immigrants.

Cecilia Malmström in front of an EU flag with stars.

Brussels is trying to coordinate migrant flow in the EU.

“The border in northeastern Greece is so vast, it's impossible to properly patrol, even with the number of EU Frontex border guards, Greek police and Greek military that are currently up there at the moment,” said Pirovolakis. "You have illegal immigrants coming over the border every five minutes."

In January this year the European Union finalized a deal with Greece allowing it to send irregular immigrants back to Turkey. Under the agreement, Turkey is required to take back both its own citizens who enter the EU illegally and citizens of other non-EU states who do the same.

"Athens is basically depending on Turkey to do this, Turkey hasn't come through all these months, and so Greece is taking the matter into its own hands now," said Christine Pirovolakis.

Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt
Editor: Michael Lawton

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